Loopholes undercut dubious US-Russia backed Syria ceasefire

EPA/STRINGER/FILE PHOTO

Russian air force technicians prepare a SU-24 combat fighter in Siberia, Russia. Russian airstrikes reportedly have pounded areas in and around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

McCain Institute head sees Assad rolling on with Russian help


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The US and Russia agreed on February 22 on a new ceasefire for Syria that will take effect February 27, however there are doubts whether it will lead to a solution to the crisis given that Washington and Moscow are backing opposing sides in Syria’s civil war.

The US and Russia agreed on terms for the “cessation of hostilities” between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and armed opposition groups. Those sides must accept the deal by February 26.

Ambassador Kurt Volker, Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, told New Europe late on February 22 that the truce would not cover the Islamic State, or Daesh, allowing Russia to support Syrian Assad by attacking rebels in the pretext that they are terrorists.

“I hope the announced ceasefire actually takes place, saves lives, and permits delivery of humanitarian assistance. However, given that the agreement itself allows for continued attacks on ISIS and other terrorist groups, and Russia’s track record of attacking rebels by claiming they are all terrorists, I am skeptical that this ceasefire will amount to anything other than a continuation of the Assad regime, with Russian support, bombing and starving its opponents,” Volker said.

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone February 22.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that if the cessation of hostilities in Syria are implemented and adhered to, they will “not only lead to a decline in violence, but also continue to expand the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian supplies to besieged areas and support a political transition to a government that is responsive to the desires of the Syrian people”.

The US Secretary of State thanked the US and Russian delegations and other members of the International Syria Support Group for their work. “We are all aware of the significant challenges ahead. Over the coming days, we will be working to secure commitments from key parties that they will abide by the terms of this cessation of hostilities and further develop modalities for monitoring and enforcement,” Kerry said.

He said all parties must meet their commitments and cease attacks on each other, including aerial bombardments.

The US-Russia agreement sets up a communications hotline and, if needed, a working group to promote and monitor the truce. The two countries also will share “pertinent information” about territory held by rebels accepting the truce.

These groups must “cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and any associated forces,” according to the agreement.

The timing of the cease-fire is only days ahead of Russia’s proposal earlier in February for it to start on March 1. The US rejected that offer at the time, saying it wanted an “immediate cease-fire” and not one that would allow Syria and its Russian backer to make a last-ditch effort for territorial gains in the Arab country’s north and south, AP reported, noting that while negotiations dragged, Russian airstrikes reportedly pounded areas in and around Aleppo and Assad’s military made significant gains on the ground.

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