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Syria Cease-fire Unlikely as Concerns Focus on Preventing Wider Conflict

  • Daniel Schearf

This handout frame grab from video provided by Doctors Without Borders, shows a house on fire in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 5, 2016. Rebel-held parts of the city have been under sustained aerial assault by Syrian government and Russian forces.

This handout frame grab from video provided by Doctors Without Borders, shows a house on fire in Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 5, 2016. Rebel-held parts of the city have been under sustained aerial assault by Syrian government and Russian forces.

Top diplomats from the United States, Russia, and the Middle East will attempt to salvage a failed Syria cease-fire agreement Saturday with talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, followed by a separate meeting Sunday in London.

The renewed efforts come less than two weeks after the United States suspended bilateral negotiations with Russia and the two sides exchanged mutual recriminations. Russian officials say they are hopeful for positive results.

But as fighting continues in the besieged city of Aleppo, analysts are skeptical of any lasting cease-fire.

“And Russia is intensifying its strikes in order to support exhausted forces of [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad in their last attempt to take over Aleppo,” says deputy editor of Yezhenedelny Zhurnal (Weekly Journal) Alexander Golts. “Now, it’s absolutely clear that (the) Russian goal is not to fight terrorists from IS (Islamic State) or Jabhat al-Nusra. (The) Russian goal is to support Assad, to save Assad. And, it’s the main point of contradiction between (the) West and Russia.”

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, back to camera, talk, with their senior aides at a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 14, 2013. For their meetings this weekend on Syria, they will be joined by officials from the Middle East.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, back to camera, talk, with their senior aides at a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, Sept. 14, 2013. For their meetings this weekend on Syria, they will be joined by officials from the Middle East.


Many believe Russia wants to first help Assad take Aleppo so they can have a stronger negotiating position.

But Russia has also warned coalition forces targeting militants to keep their distance and threatened to shoot down any planes that get too close to Russian or Syrian forces.

Wider conflict feared

While a cease-fire would be welcomed, analysts say the bigger concern is preventing a wider conflict developing in Syria.

“Three weeks ago we discussed the possibility of military cooperation between Russia and the United States. Now all these possibilities disappeared,” says Golts. “The main realistic goal is to avoid direct military confrontation now between [the] United States and Russia in Syria.”

A White House spokesman ruled out the possibility of any U.S. military cooperation with Russia in Syria. U.S. officials say it is now clear their goals in Syria are no longer compatible with Russia’s, a view echoed by some analysts.

“The pretense at a possibility of strategic cooperation went on for far too long and was a major contributing factor to the lack of communication between the two sides that has led us to this dangerous situation now,” says Chatham House’s Keir Giles. “So, recognizing what is and is not achievable, in terms of cooperation with Russia on shared challenges, and there are some, is the first step toward making it actually happen and reducing the current tensions.”

Russia has increased its military presence in Syria and announced plans to maintain bases there indefinitely.

In this picture provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, residents sit amongst rubble in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 11, 2016. Damascus and Moscow insist they are not targeting the city's civilians, as ample evidence seems to point to the contrary.

In this picture provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, residents sit amongst rubble in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria, Oct. 11, 2016. Damascus and Moscow insist they are not targeting the city's civilians, as ample evidence seems to point to the contrary.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to impose Russia as a partner on the United States did not work, its support for Assad failed to reach a decisive victory, so the war is going to last longer than Moscow expected, says Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin.

The political rift appeared after the bombing of a U.N. aid convoy, which Washington blamed on Moscow, and Russia stepped-up military support for the Syrian offensive on Aleppo.

The United States and France suggested Russia be investigated for war crimes in Syria for attacks on civilians, a notion that Putin dismissed as rhetoric in a Wednesday interview with French television. Putin said the West was responsible for the war in Syria and fueling the rise of radical Islam.

European Union foreign ministers, who are scheduled to meet Monday, will accuse the Syrian government and its allies of using disproportionate violence in its assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo that “may amount to war crimes,” Reuters reported, citing a draft statement.

The ministers are also likely to discuss the possibility of further sanctions against Russia, although analysts say there is a lack of consensus between the member nations over sanctions.

Russia points the finger at the United States for a mistaken airstrike on Syrian forces and for not doing enough to separate moderate rebels from Islamist militants.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry Thursday said separating the groups would be among key points of discussion during the weekend talks.

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