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US jittery at Putin’s success in Syria

US jittery at Putin’s success in Syria
There should be no doubt that all major parties to the Syrian conflict remain committed to a military solution and that the political process is a cruel facade that offers Syrians no reprieve from the cataclysm. What is most disgraceful is the USA which is the creator of the current crisis in Syria has now raised its hands in despair. It has completely failed its legions under its thumb. The situation in the region would not have deteriorated to such an extent pushing the global fraternity on the brink of a world war if the USA had not created the Frankenstein’ monster, the ISIS.

The USA was so obstinate towards Syrian ruler Assad that even put enormous pressure on India to join its western coalition that has launched airstrikes against the terror group. The Obama administration tried to prevail on India that its interest could be saved and preserved only if it opposed Russian initiative in Syria. No doubt India is willing to join the fight against the Islamic State terror group but under the flag of the United Nations that too if such a resolution is adopted by the world body.

In fact the Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar made it explicit; “if there is a UN resolution and if there is UN flag and a UN mission, then as per India’s policy to operate under UN flag, we will participate. Since the terror attacks in Paris by ISIS supporters the global community has scrambled to militarily defeat IS and also find ways to cut off funding to terrorist organisations.

India’s stance on the Syrian crisis has been subtle yet expected. India has maintained good relations with the Assad family that has presided over the country since 1971 as head of the Syrian Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. But as the conflict in Syria began to emerge in 2011, during Arab Spring, global calls for the ouster of the Syrian regime multiplied. Significantly the stand of India on the  latest crisis has been highly appreciated by the Syrian government.

The Syrian Ambassador to India, Riad Kammel Abbas, referred to India as a friend of Syria and said Damascus appreciates India’s stance of not joining the chorus for regime change. “Frankly speaking, I have already said this that if everybody has done what India has done; we wouldn’t have any problem in Syria. And Modi has made it very clear that there’s no bad terrorism and good terrorism. There’s only terrorism,” he said. The Indian government has not commented on the Russian air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria but is “in touch” with both the Russian and the Syrian governments on the issue.

At the meeting held in Munich on February 1112, 2016, at the initiative of the UN the USA, Russia and the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), decided that humanitarian access will commence this week to besieged areas, and an ISSG task force will within one week elaborate modalities for the cessation of hostilities. The big powers also announced that a ceasefire would come into force “within a week”. This move would be appreciated by any sensible person across the globe. But this is not so simple as appears.

The negotiations for restarting peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition took place against the backdrop of a fierce fight for control of Aleppo province, which continued unabated. The most important aspect of the move is America not coming out with the pre-condition that Assad should not be a party to the process. It obviously makes clear that the US President Barack Obama has lost the game. This latest action of US and its coalition was an attempt to save its face and also buy time to regroup the terrorist groups aligned to the USA.

The Syrian government, backed by Russian air strikes, launched a major offensive from the north of Aleppo and captured several strategically important towns earlier this month. Over the past two weeks, the Syrian government and Russian military forces have carried out daily air strikes in ISIS-held areas.

With the spectre of terrorists losing their base in Aleppo getting intensified, Saudi Arabia was seriously contemplating to join the fight. This intervention was a desperate measure to reverse the dramatic military gains brought about by Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict. Saudi Arabia’s threatened intervention is not about targeting ISIL but rather about regaining the political positioning and battlefield strength that was lost during the Russian intervention. Any Saudi intervention would no doubt enjoys Western consent and military coordination.

A six month’s intervention by Russia has completely changed the political dynamics of Syria and the ISIS’s activities. Russian intervention has ensured that the rebel groups will have limited capacity to shape the coming months of the conflict. The Syrian conflict is congealing in the Northern parts of the country with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Kurdish forces converging around the remaining rebel-held areas.

Recent Western diplomatic and political posturing suggests that they have given up on Syria and have accepted that the future will be shaped by Russian and Iranian designs for the country. The threat of military entanglement with Russia is a very real and serious one for Western states. Notwithstanding the moral bankruptcy of the West on the Syrian conflict, there is simply no appetite in Western capitals for further military commitments.

This has become Saudi Arabia’s last major military option in Syria. Russia, Iran, and regime-aligned forces inside of Syria are well aware of this, as are Saudi Arabia’s regional allies. Having lost the round the USA allies and think tank are now out to malign Russia. They allege that Putin’s aim is to foster the EU’s disintegration, and the best way to do so is to flood Europe with Syrian refugees which is why Russia has been bombing the civilian population in southern Syria forcing them to flee to Jordan and Lebanon. They also allege; “He has obfuscated his actions by talking of cooperating against a common enemy, ISIS. The defeat of anti-Assad rebels in Aleppo who have controlled the city since 2012 would leave nothing on the ground in Syria but Assad’s regime and Islamic State.”

The Russian air attacks have succeeded in clearing rebel strongholds that had defied two earlier regime pushes and allowed loyalist forces led by Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militias to advance towards a large industrial area at the gateway to the rebel-held east that has been transformed into a wasteland over three years of bombardment. The fall of Aleppo would be a devastating blow to anti-Assad and pro-USA forces. Russia’s intervention had the declared goal of battling the Islamic State terror group, which controls much of eastern Syria and has pockets of influence in the centre of the country and near Damascus.

Even the officials in Ankara and Riyadh, which back the anti-Assad forces confess that Russia’s support to Assad has ensured that his forces, which were earlier on losing turf, are no longer at risk of losing the war. Forces backing President Bashar al-Assad continue to push north to the border. Western and Arab backers of insurgent groups are declining to increase military support.

There is no denying the fact America’s loss is Russia’s gain. Russia has filled the gap left by American inaction, and that is irreversible. Russia’s military campaign has given Assad’s forces the edge. An effective coalition with Iranian, Lebanese and Iraq Shia militias has been forged on the ground. Nevertheless, the western coalition sees the Munich agreement as an attempt by Russia to divide the rebels fighting the Assad regime. Surprisingly American inaction and indecision have led Syrian rebel leaders to complain they are being abandoned. 

(Views expressed are personal)
Arun Srivastava

Arun Srivastava

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