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US-Russia Cooperation In Syria – OpEd

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All UN veto members have a common plan and they move accordingly. The USA and Russia, the two very important super powers, have always cooperated in regional problems —  even during the Cold War era.

Cooperation and confrontation have been the hallmark of Russo-US relations. Russia has once again accused the USA of training terrorists in Syria, this time at a military base in the south of the war-torn country. Moscow has regularly charged that Washington provides cover, if not all-out support, for militant forces fighting against Syria’s regime and civilian population.

In Syria the USA and Russia seem to be working in tandem in Syria to destabilize those Arab nations by attacking select zones without any clash between them in the choice of zones for attack.

Apparently, US-Russian relations in Syria are warmer after Trump’s arrival at the White House. Russia says it wants to end its role in Syria, but the USA is opposed to ending terror wars in West Asia and it has no plan to leave Syria. The USA is not even considering leaving Syria or West Asia for good because there is nothing that could force it to leave the region alone.

The six year-old conflict in Syria that’s killed at least 400,000 people and generated millions of refugees has entered a new phase; with diplomacy taking center stage as fighting subsides. Islamic State has been driven out of its main strongholds, and the two rival blocs that have been combating the jihadists — the Assad-Russia-Iran alliance, and a coalition headed by the USA — are now arguing over the shape of a postwar settlement.

Assad’s departure from power is supposed to be a stated US objective, even if the Trump government is more flexible than its Obama government predecessors in how its provisions are implemented. However, in fact, the USA does not want either to kill or remove Assad from power, but only wants to destabilize that Arab nation as part of their Arab Spring agenda.

Limiting or even reversing Russian influence in the Middle East continues to be the operative principles guiding the formation of US foreign policy.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian war in 2015 on the side of Bashar al-Assad has been marred by accusations its Air Force deliberately targeting aid convoys and civilian infrastructure.

Donald Trump’s informal meetings with Vladimir Putin on November 11 on the sidelines of the recent APEC summit in Vietnam may have produced a warm attitude between the two leaders, but some fundamental policy differences between them are hard to overlook. Though the bilateral diplomatic effort has elicited optimism from officials, it does not represent any promising step forward to save tremendous numbers of lives in Syria which has been under siege from foreign forces.

In fact their statement does not provide a workable roadmap for effective American-Russian collaboration and coordination Putin’s spokesman characterized it that it “does not require comments” and is not open to multiple interpretations. The latest statement — another in a long list that have been hailed as groundbreaking efforts to end the fighting in Syria — is really not going to make a difference this time around.

On the one hand, one gets the impression that both super powers are trying stabilizing Syria, but on the other both are destabilizing the Arab nation as per their own plans without any conflicts. However, just as with the agreements reached over Syria during the last year of the Obama government, this latest statement is open to multiple interpretations.

Both sides continue to use vague language and terms deliberately left undefined to accommodate the still considerable divergences between Washington and Moscow over Syria’s future. While both sides agree on the necessity of fighting ISIS, Moscow has a much broader definition of who constitutes “associates” of ISIS — in order to encompass some of the groups that the United States views as legitimate opposition to the Assad regime. Both sides concur foreign fighters should leave, but are the Iranian Al-Quds units of the Revolutionary Guard or Hezbollah combatants permitted to remain at the invitation of the government in Damascus?

The statement heralds an imminent shift in the trajectory of US-Russia relations. The statement builds on previous modest steps that Russia and the USA have achieved: the use of de-escalation zones and limited cease-fires to tap down fighting; the continuation of deconfliction efforts to ensure that USA-Russian-backed forces don’t engage in direct clashes; the agreement to work with Jordan to stabilize southern Syria and maintain tenuous truces between pro- and anti-regime forces; and the ostensible support for the complete destruction of the Islamic State and getting a post-conflict political reconciliation process underway.

It’s only the Geneva talks that can lead to a sustainable settlement, the US officials said. A separate Russian-led process is pointless unless it contributes to that goal, and looks instead like a quick-fix arrangement to leave Assad in power and get someone else to foot the bill for reconstruction, they argued.

The flaw in that approach, the White House contends, is that Assad lacks the means to control the territory that’s nominally back under his control, while his main allies can’t afford to pick up a bill for reconstruction that may total several hundred billion dollars.

Syria under Assad remains cut off from the world economy and subject to sanctions by the UN, the USA and European Union. America and its EU allies are in agreement that there shouldn’t be any international funding for rebuilding in the Assad-controlled part of Syria, the officials said.

The question of Assad’s future has overshadowed all other sticking points in the Syrian talks, and has already caused a breakdown at the latest round in Geneva. The USA and its European and Arab partners have spent years insisting on his departure. Yet as Russian support swung the war in the Syrian president’s favor, the ‘Assad-must-go’ coalition was left without any obvious means of making that happen.

Moreover, while Russia keeps open the possibility that Assad could be re-elected as president of a post-war Syria, the United States finds it inconceivable that, in any free and fair election, Assad could win a majority of the ballots cast.

Also, the statement never mentions the “Syria National Dialogue Conference” that Moscow has now postponed until next month. The conference represents the Kremlin’s efforts, along with its partners in the Middle East, to define the “acceptable” members of the Syrian political constellation who could be brought into some sort of power-sharing agreement.

At the same time, some of those who will not be invited to or would not take part in the planned conference in Sochi are precisely the political forces that the United States hopes would play a leading role in a post-war Syria.

Meanwhile, although Trump may be prepared to accept a cooperative role for Russia in charting Syria’s future, he has almost no political support for this position in the USA — either within his own national security establishment or from Congress.

The USA will not passively “sign on” to decisions on Syria reached largely by the trilateral dialogue by Russia-Iran-Turkey— yet Russia, in turn, is not going to yield the gains that its air power has won for the Assad regime on the battlefield. The joint statement is important because it recognizes the crucial task of preventing any sort of clash between Moscow and Washington in Syria. It sends a clear message to the military establishments of both countries to take the steps necessary to avoid any accidents.

Last week, Israel carried out an air strike on a military base near Damascus. USA asks Israel to intervene and kill some Syrians on its behalf, ostensibly to help push back against Iranian influence. The US officials said it’s a priority to stop Iran and its proxies from entrenching in Syria and posing a threat to American allies, though they wouldn’t go into detail about how that can be achieved. Topping that list is Israel, which says it’s ready to take military action of its own to combat Iran’s growing clout in the neighboring country, according to Arab media.

NATO-Russia relations deteriorated in 2014 when the alliance decided to suspend cooperation with Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis that was triggered by the coup in Kiev.

Meanwhile, number of NATO troops near Russian borders tripled since 2012: Russia
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on December 22 that NATO has doubled the number of its military drills since 2012 in the vicinity of Russia’s borders, adding that Moscow is scrutinizing the exercises. Sergei said that the US missile defense system in Europe has been brought to the level of “initial operational readiness.” The number of the bloc’s servicemen deployed near Russian borders has grown from 10,000 to 40,000 in three years, he added. While the bloc conducted 282 military exercises near Russia’s borders in 2014, in 2017 the number of drills grew to 548. He also said that the NATO member-states have intensified their surveillance operations near Russia. “We resolutely suppress any attempts to violate the Russian air and sea borders,” the Minister of Defense added.

Shoigu has added that the Russian military is determined to keep the pace of modernizing hardware and acquiring new equipment next year. The armed forces will receive 10 S-400 missile systems and put in service 11 Yars missile systems. “The share of modern weapons in the Russian army should grow to 61 percent by the end of 2018, including 82 percent in the strategic nuclear forces, 46 percent in the land forces, 74 percent in the aerospace forces, 55 percent in the navy.”

Its latest effort backfired last month when Russia’s Defense Ministry attached video game footage as “irrefutable evidence” of its claims. “According to space and other types of surveillance data, there are militant units inside a US base in Tanf, Syria. They are, in fact, training there,” General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid.

ISIS is a terrorist organization banned in Russia. Gerasimov cited a BBC report about a secret US-led coalition deal to let hundreds of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters escape their former stronghold of Raqqa in October. He estimated around 350 of these fighters were in the Tanf base in southern Syria and 750 more at another base in a Kurdish-held region in the northeast. “They are de-facto IS. But, after they are worked on, they change colors and rename themselves the ‘New Syrian Army,’ or otherwise,” Gerasimov said.

The USA has emphatically refuted Russia’s latest accusations.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement with Syria that will give the Russian military access to an airbase on the Mediterranean for another half a century. According to the document published on the official government website, Russia will continue to lease the Khmeimim Air Base, in the Latakia province, until at least 2066. The Syrian government conceded to lend the base in Latakia province free of charge.

Hosting the leaders of Iran and Turkey at the Black Sea resort of Sochi last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared there’s a “real chance” to end the war, saying “the militants in Syria have been dealt a decisive blow.” Russia’s intervention in the war two years ago turned the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.

Putin plans to invite all Syrian factions to a congress in Sochi early next year.

Meanwhile, United Nations-brokered talks in Geneva — which have been underway since the civil war’s early years, though they’ve produced few results — resumed last week.

The Syrian conflict is likely to drag on and could reignite into full-scale civil war as long as President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, despite efforts by Russia to paint the conflict as winding down, according to White House officials. The Syrian faction including America’s Kurdish allies controls the largest amount of territory, besides Assad’s government.

The Syrian army is barely able to reimpose authority on territory it has recaptured, even with military support from Russia and Iran, while Assad’s allies can’t afford to rebuild the country. As the war against Islamic State winds down, some US troops are set to stay on to help the Kurds consolidate their gains.

Declarations of victory by Assad’s backers are premature, three White House officials said in a briefing for reporters. They spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal government assessments of the conflict.

The UNSC that can reign in USA and other powers forcing them to mind their own business is silent and only promotes the military interests of veto member states.


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Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.

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