Η ΡΩΣΙΚΗ ΕΚΣΤΡΑΤΕΙΑ ΣΤΗΝ ΣΥΡΙΑ -54: ΗΠΑ ΚΑΙ ΡΩΣΙΑ ΣΥΝΕΡΓΑΖΟΝΤΑΙ (;)ΕΝΩ Η ΤΟΥΡΚΙΑ ΠΛΗΡΩΝΕΙ ΤΙΣ ΣΥΝΕΠΕΙΕΣ ΤΗΣ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΗΣ ΤΗΣ (Μικρή συλλογή άρθρων)
A)U.S.-Russia Deal on a Partial Truce in Syria Raises More Doubt Than Optimism
By MARK LANDLERFEB.
Syrian government forces inspected the site of a series of attacks in the area of the Sayyida Zeinab shrine south of the capital, Damascus, on Sunday. Credit Youssef Karwashan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The United States and Russia announced an agreement on Monday for a partial truce in Syria, though the caveats and cautious words on all sides underscored the obstacles in the way of the latest diplomatic effort to end the five-year-old civil war.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Syrian government and Syria’s armed opposition are being asked to agree to a “cessation of hostilities,” effective this Saturday. But the truce does not apply to two of the most lethal extremist groups, the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, raising questions about whether it will be any more lasting than previous cease-fires.
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The agreement calls for the Syrian government and the opposition to indicate by noon on Friday whether they will comply with the cessation of hostilities, a term carefully chosen because it does not require the kind of agreement in a formal cease-fire. The United States is responsible for bringing the various opposition groups in line while the Russians are supposed to pressure the government. Washington and Moscow also agreed to set up a hotline to monitor compliance by both sides.
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Steps Taken Toward Cease-Fire in Syria
The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, confirmed that President Obama and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia discussed a cease-fire plan in Syria. A spokesman for the United Nations secretary general urged its implementation. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and REUTERS on Publish Date February 22, 2016. Photo by Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press. Watch in Times Video »
President Obama sealed the final terms of the arrangement in a phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has become perhaps the most influential player in the Syrian war since Russia thrust itself into the conflict in September on behalf of its client, Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
“I am sure that the common actions, agreed with the American side, are capable of radically changing the crisis situation in Syria,” Mr. Putin declared. “Finally, a real chance emerged to stop the longstanding bloodshed and violence.”
The White House was more muted, issuing a two-paragraph summary of the president’s conversation, in which he welcomed the agreement but did not celebrate it. The priorities, Mr. Obama told Mr. Putin, were to “alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” accelerate a political settlement and keep the focus on the coalition’s battle against the Islamic State.
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“This is going to be difficult to implement,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said. “The fact is that the situation in Syria has been very difficult from the get-go.”
On the ground in Syria, the prospects for an end to the bloodshed seemed even more elusive. In the last week alone, more than 100 people in Homs and Damascus were killed by suicide bombings by the Islamic State. Airstrikes by the Syrian government and its Russian allies in Aleppo and elsewhere have killed scores of people, including in at least five hospitals, one aided by the international charity Doctors Without Borders. Farther east, scores of civilians were said by locals to have been killed in airstrikes by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The diplomatic efforts did yield a small victory: Aid was delivered for the first time in months to several towns after the combatants gave permission under intense pressure. But hundreds of thousands of Syrians remain trapped in areas that are classified as besieged or hard to reach, without regular access to food and medicine. Humanitarian groups caution that the more access to aid is used as part of political deals, the less the combatants will provide it unconditionally, as required under international law.
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The agreement came after one false start: Secretary of State John Kerry announced in Munich on Feb. 12 that the truce would take effect in a week, but the target date passed as the two sides wrestled over how to carry it out. On Sunday, in Amman, Jordan, Mr. Kerry spoke three times by phone with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to iron out the details.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, part of the coalition combating the Islamic State, last week on the outskirts of the eastern Syrian city of Shadadi. Credit Rodi Said/Reuters
On Monday, while flying back to Washington, Mr. Kerry briefed ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey about the agreement, according to a senior State Department official. He is expected to discuss the truce when he testifies at a budget hearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Kerry has tended to be more optimistic than the White House about the prospects for a diplomatic solution in Syria. But his statement on Monday was also notably reserved. He did not mention the Feb. 27 date and said that while the agreement represented a “moment of promise,” the “fulfillment of that promise depends on actions.”
“He is, of course, glad that we got the modalities agreed upon and a start date,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Mr. Kerry’s thinking, “but he isn’t prepared to take anything for granted. In his mind, this is not a time to celebrate.”
Analysts expressed skepticism about the deal, noting that in the five days before the truce takes effect, the Syrian forces and their Russian allies could inflict a lot more damage to Aleppo through bombing raids. Some speculated that Russia might expand its military campaign to Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, where Nusra fighters are also operating.
“This depends entirely on the good faith of Russia, Iran and the Assad regime, none of whom have shown much good faith in the last five years,” said Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who worked on Syria policy during the first term of the Obama administration.
“The Russians have it in their power to stop this in five days,” Mr. Hof said. “The fact that they’re taking five more days suggests that they will use Nusra as a pretext to go beyond where they are now.”
In Riyadh on Monday, a Saudi-backed consortium of Syrian opposition groups and political dissidents said they would agree to the terms of the truce. But Riad Hijab, who coordinates the group’s efforts, did not expect the Syrian government, Iran or Russia to abide by it since, he said, Mr. Assad’s survival depended on “the continuation of its campaign of oppression, killing and forced displacement.”
For the Obama administration, a partial truce in Syria may simply be a way to keep a lid on the violence there while it turns its attention to planning and carrying out military operations against Islamic State fighters in Libya. Some analysts said the agreement was less an effort to end the fighting in Syria than to ease the bloodshed enough to allow more humanitarian aid to reach stricken cities like Aleppo.
“Washington’s stated policy is not to end the Syrian war,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They just want to settle it down so it boils a little more slowly. It’s yet another attempt to contain a conflict that has been uncontainable.”
Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard in Beirut, Lebanon; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington; Somini Sengupta at the United Nations; and Ivan Nechepurenko in Moscow.
B)Turkey’s Haunted Border with Syria
- Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, are now paying the price for their miscalculated Islamist aspirations to install a Muslim Brotherhood type of Sunni regime in Syria in place of the non-Sunni Assad regime. Assad, with Russia’s help, has become somewhat untouchable, and has never been so safe and secure since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. By contrast, the Turks now face a multitude of threats on both sides of an apocalyptic border.
- «With the Middle East ravaged by religious radicalism and sectarianism, the European Union and the United States can’t afford the Turkish government’s brutal military efforts against the Kurds or its undemocratic war on academics and journalists. Only a secular, democratic Turkey that can provide a regional bulwark against radical groups will bring stability to both the Middle East and Europe. As Mr. Erdogan seeks to eliminate all opposition and create a single-party regime, the European Union and the United States must cease their policy of appeasement and ineffectual disapproval and frankly inform him that this is a dead end.» — Behlul Ozkan, assistant professor at Istanbul’s Marmara University, writing in the New York Times.
Six years ago, Turkey’s official narrative over its leaders’ Kodak-moment exchanges of pleasantries with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus promised the creation of a Muslim bloc resembling the European Union. Border controls would disappear, trade would flourish, armies would carry out joint exercises, and Turks and Syrians on both sides of the border would live happily ever after. Instead, six years later, blood is flowing on both sides of the 900 kilometer border.
Inside Turkey, clashes between security forces and members of the youth wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have been taking place for weeks. Many towns and neighborhoods have turned into ghost-towns, as strict curfews are now in place. As a result, tens of thousands of Kurds have been forced to flee their homes, seeking refuge in safer parts of the country. While the Turkish army struggles to diffuse the latest Kurdish urban rebellion, hundreds of Kurdish militants and members of Turkey’s security forces have lost their lives.
Worse, the conflict has the potential to trigger further violence in Turkey’s non-eastern regions, where there is a vast Kurdish population spread across large cities.
Already in Istanbul, violence erupted on February 2, 2016, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on the campus of an Islamic association; they killed one man and wounded three others. In a second incident in a suburb of Istanbul, two people were killed and seven wounded after armed assailants fired on a tea-house.
Across the border in northern Syria, Turkey’s «Kurdish problem» is equally pressing. The PKK’s Syrian faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has been successfully fighting on the front-lines alongside the Western alliance that is waging war on the Islamic State (IS), and making itself highly regarded by the alliance, thereby further angering Ankara.
Turkey, which views the PYD as a terrorist organization like the PKK, fears that the Syrian Kurds’ fight against IS could, in the near future, earn the PYD international legitimacy.
On February 1, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition against IS, visited a part of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria. On his visit, McGurk posed in front of cameras with a PYD commander — all smiles — while receiving an honorary plaque. The ceremony lent further legitimacy to the PYD. McGurk’s actions greatly angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a statement directed towards Washington, Erdogan asked: «How will we trust [you]? Am I your partner or are the terrorists in Kobane [the Kurdish town in northern Syria]?»
Ironically, Syrian Kurds are not only backed by the U.S., but also by Russia, which became another Turkish nightmare. On November 24, 2015, two Turkish F-16 jets shot down a Russian Su-24 military jet flying along Turkey’s border with Syria. Turkey justified its actions against Russia, citing a violation of Turkish airspace. Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to punish Turkey by means «other than» a slew of severe commercial sanctions.
Immediately after the November 24th incident, in a clear signal to Turkey, Moscow began to reinforce its military deployments in Syria and on the eastern Mediterranean. These included installations of S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense batteries, lying in wait for the first Turkish plane to fly over Syrian skies, in order to shoot it down in front of the cameras. Russia’s scare tactics worked. The Turks halted their airstrikes against IS strongholds in Syria.
On January 29, 2016, another Russian jet, this time a Su-34, violated Turkish airspace and was not shot down. The Turks, already uneasy over tensions with Russia, did not pull the trigger. Most observers agree that the second violation and Turkey’s failure to shoot, despite earlier pledges that «all foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace would be shot down,» was a major humiliation on the part of Ankara.
|Left: A Russian Su-24 bomber explodes as it is hit by a missile fired from a Turkish F-16 fighter, on Nov. 24, 2015. Right: A Russian Su-34 fighter jet. On Jan. 29, 2016, a Russian Su-34 violated Turkish airspace and was not shot down, despite earlier pledges that «all foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace would be shot down.»|
Much to Turkey’s discomfort, the Russians are playing a tough game in Syria. Most recently, the Russian military deployed at least four advanced Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E aircraft to Syria; the move — shortly after the January violation of Turkish airspace by the Su-34 — further augmented its air superiority and boldly challenging Ankara.
«Starting from last week, super-maneuverable Su-35S fighter jets started performing combat missions at Khmeimim airbase,» Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told the TASS news agency on February 1. But a more humiliating move by Moscow was to come: Russian forces in Syria bombed «moderate» anti-Assad Islamist groups, as well as Turkmen (ethnic Turks) in northwestern Syria.
Russian airstrikes have reinforced Assad’s forces that now encircle Aleppo, a strategic city in the north. More than 70,000 Syrians, mostly Turkmen, fled from their villages to the Turkish border to seek refuge inside Turkey, and potentially add to the country’s refugee problem. Turkey is home to more than 2.5 million Syrians who have fled the civil war. It is estimated that at least one million more would flee to Turkey if Aleppo fell to Assad’s forces.
Erdogan and his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, are now paying the price for their miscalculated Islamist aspirations to install a Muslim Brotherhood type of Sunni regime in Syria in place of the non-Sunni Assad regime. Assad, with Russia’s help, has become somewhat untouchable and has never been so safe and secure since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. By contrast, the Turks now face a multitude of threats on both sides of an apocalyptic border.
As Behlul Ozkan, an assistant professor at Istanbul’s Marmara University, warned in a recent article in the New York Times:
«With the Middle East ravaged by religious radicalism and sectarianism, the European Union and the United States can’t afford the Turkish government’s brutal military efforts against the Kurds or its undemocratic war on academics and journalists. Only a secular, democratic Turkey that can provide a regional bulwark against radical groups will bring stability to both the Middle East and Europe. As Mr. Erdogan seeks to eliminate all opposition and create a single-party regime, the European Union and the United States must cease their policy of appeasement and ineffectual disapproval and frankly inform him that this is a dead end.»
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
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