News / Middle East

    Russian Airstrikes in Syria to Face Scrutiny at Munich Talks

    In this Russian Defense Ministry Press Service photo, a Russian Su-25 ground attack jet is parked at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, with Su-24 bombers seen in the background, Dec. 18, 2015.
    In this Russian Defense Ministry Press Service photo, a Russian Su-25 ground attack jet is parked at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, with Su-24 bombers seen in the background, Dec. 18, 2015.
    Pamela Dockins

    Russia’s stepped up aerial bombardment in Syria will be a focal point for the United States and other members of the International Syria Support Group when it meets this week in Germany.

    The group, which includes Syria-backers Russia and Iran, is meeting Thursday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

    It is the group’s first full meeting since U.N.-mediated proximity talks on a political transition in Syria bogged down, partly because of opposition protests against Russian-backed aerial assaults in Aleppo.

    The bombing campaign has forced thousands of Syrians to flee their homes, with many of them heading toward the already crowded Turkish border.
     
    On Tuesday, the day before he heads to Munich, Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about Russia during a State Department appearance with Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry.

    WATCH: US, World Powers Seek Change in Russian Behavior

    US, World Powers Seek Change in Russian Behaviori
    X
    Pamela Dockins
    February 09, 2016 7:25 PM
    On the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference this week, world powers will convene the first full meeting of the International Syria Support Group since talks on a political transition in Syria bogged down. A focal point for the group will be Russia’s stepped-up aerial bombings in Syria, a move many say is hampering progress on the political front. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    “Russia’s activities in Aleppo and the region right now are making it more difficult to be able to come to the table to be able to have a serious conversation,” said Kerry.

    Egypt is also part of the International Syria Support Group, which has been backing U.N.-mediated talks designed to lead to a political transition in Syria.  Foreign Minister Shoukry said a successful resumption of talks could eventually increase regional stability.

    “Hopefully the political process that has been initiated in Syria will provide us all with more ability to control the spread of terrorism in Syria and for that country to regain its stability,” he said.

    Kerry met in December with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.  In recent weeks, Kerry and Lavrov have held a series of phone calls on the crisis in Syria.

    “I would not read too much into the Russian participation on the political track,” said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford.

    Ford, now a scholar at the Middle East Institute, said it is more important to watch Russia’s military action in Syria, a move that he said is unlikely to receive a strong challenge from the United States.

    “I think that President Putin has an understanding that the Obama administration’s focus is on trying as much as possible to limit involvement in Middle East conflicts,” said Ford, in a VOA interview.
     
    Moscow pushing back

    Russia, for its part, has pushed back against accusations that its support for the Syrian regime and its stepped up bombing campaign played a role in derailing the first round of proximity talks.

    “We think that this opinion is incorrect,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

    He said Moscow had “consistently” made efforts to help secure a peaceful political settlement in Syria.

    But differing definitions of supporting Syria have contributed to tensions between Russia and the other members of the International Syria Support Group, said David Schenker, Director of the Arab Politics Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    “The Russians are supporting the eight percent Alawite minority in its continued domination over the vast majority of Syrians,” he said.

    The differences in focus among Russia and Iran and the rest of the group have left some doubting if political talks will lead to the desired results.

    “I don’t think that the political track is going to bear fruit,” said Middle East Institute analyst Paul Salem.  “I think that the [Syrian] regime, with very powerful support from Russia and of course from Iran and Hezbollah and other groups, is currently operating to defeat what’s known a the moderate opposition,” he added.

    Despite pessimism in some circles, Kerry said the United States and other world powers were approaching the talks in Munich with “great hopes.”

    “Russia needs to join all of us in understanding that this can not go on,” said Kerry.  “They have a major responsibility as a co-convener of the International Syria Support Group to create the framework within which that group can be successful.”

    Germany is the first leg of a three-nation tour for Kerry that also includes a stop in Albania.

    He will wrap up in California, joining President Barack Obama for a special U.S. summit with Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Hung Manh from: Vietnam
    February 10, 2016 10:31 AM
    The US and its allies must realize that it is high time for them to stop supporting verious kinds of terrorists in Syria. It is high time for them to leave syrian people alone because with western instigation and supporting terrorists in Syria the whole country has turned into a hell. Stop your aristocracy now. Enough is enough. A lot of arab countries have become hells as the result of your false "democracy" callings.

    by: wise Kaa from: jungle
    February 10, 2016 5:00 AM
    The Americans (never have been in Syria) are telling everyone that Syria is a dictatorship and the tyranny of the Alawite minority (8%) over the Sunni majority, that Syrian Sunnis are hopelessly suffering under the yoke of cruel rulers - the alawites, await and dream the day when they finally will be released by noble, selfless mighty Americans. Syria is a secular state. Officials, political scientists and other pseudo-scientists from the U.S. lie, substitute notions, incite religious hatred and impose their false understanding of the political situation and power relations in Syria.
    Is it the afroamerican dictatorship and the tyranny in the USA becouse of afroamerican pres?

    by: Amin from: Texas
    February 09, 2016 8:11 PM
    The opposition should not have pulled out from the last Geneva conference. Hold the Saudis responsible for all the bloodshed and their plans to invade Syria.

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