News / Middle East

    Russia Hardens Position Ahead of Syria Peace Talks

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 26, 2016.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Jan. 26, 2016.
    Daniel Schearf

    Russia appeared to be hardening its position on Syria as it backed government forces making gains against rebels before hoped-for peace talks Friday in Geneva.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday that the Syrian Army, with the help of Russian airstrikes, seized control overnight of a strategic rebel-held town near the border with Jordan.

    Syrian opposition groups had signaled they would not participate in talks unless the Russian and Syrian airstrikes were halted and sieges against towns were lifted.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said Russia's air support had drastically altered the situation in Syria and "helped narrow the area controlled by terrorists." He added, "moreover, we also got a clear picture of who is fighting the terrorists and who is acting in the role of their accomplices, trying to use them in their own egotistic, one-sided goals."

    Russia began accusing Turkey of supporting terrorists in Syria after a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian bomber in November along its border. Ankara denies the accusation. Turkey is part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State and other terrorist groups in the region.

    Disagreement over PYD

    Russia labels all the rebel groups fighting its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as terrorists and is accused by Assad opponents of targeting rebels instead of Islamic State terrorists. Russia is accused of killing hundreds of civilians with its air campaign, while Moscow claims zero civilian deaths.

    FILE - Syrian government troops and allied militiamen walk inside the key town of Salma in Latakia province, Syria, Jan 12, 2016.
    FILE - Syrian government troops and allied militiamen walk inside the key town of Salma in Latakia province, Syria, Jan 12, 2016.

    Russia has clashed with the U.S.-led coalition on which Syrian opposition groups should participate in peace talks.

    Speaking Tuesday at his annual news briefing in Moscow, Lavrov said Syrian Kurds represented by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) should be invited to participate. Turkey, a member of the U.S. coalition, is against the PYD taking part.

    The Russian foreign minister said, "Without this participant, the talks cannot bring the result that we want, that is the final political settlement [of the conflict] in Syria."

    The PYD is an offshoot of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party; but, while the PKK is considered by Turkey, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization, the United States has supported the PYD in fighting Islamic State terrorists inside Syria.

    Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Tuesday they remain strongly opposed to the PYD joining the Syrian opposition at the peace talks. It was not clear if the hardened positions were enough to scuttle the Friday talks. 

    Rivalries ‘quite visible’

    Moscow-based political scientist Victor Mizin says the differences between the sides are stark.

    Syrian citizens gather at the scene where twin bombs exploded at a government-run security checkpoint in Homs province, Syria, Jan 26, 2016. State media said at least 22 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded.
    Syrian citizens gather at the scene where twin bombs exploded at a government-run security checkpoint in Homs province, Syria, Jan 26, 2016. State media said at least 22 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded.

    "The rivalries and the divergences in approaches are quite visible. And, I think that ... it is quite evident that they would be also visible in the coming negotiations."

    Lavrov denied a report that Moscow had urged Assad to step down, but was rebuffed.

    The Financial Times newspaper this month cited sources saying Russia's former head of foreign intelligence, Igor Sergun, made a special trip to Damascus earlier this month to offer Assad asylum if he gave up power.

    "I've read the speculations published with reference to late Igor Sergun claiming that he had allegedly made a trip to Damascus to ask Assad to resign," Lavrov said Tuesday. "This is not true. Such a conversation with Assad was not necessary."

    Lavrov also dismissed speculation Russia might offer Assad asylum.

    "Nobody has asked us for political asylum," Lavrov said, adding, "No offers of the sort have been made."

    The U.S.-led coalition was supporting Syrian opposition calls for Assad to leave power, but changed its position to support talks between the two sides as Russia stepped up its military support.

    Lavrov painted a bleak picture of global terrorism and alleged Western attempts to contain Russia. He complained of Western dominance and asking Russia for favors, while also claiming that dominance is being eroded and Russia is ready to cooperate with Europe and the United States on other contentious issues, such as implementing a peace deal on Ukraine.

    He blamed Kyiv and the West for a lack of progress on the February cease-fire deal made in Minsk. Kyiv and Western governments say Russia's ongoing military support for pro-Russia rebels is to blame. 

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 27, 2016 3:31 PM
    Anonymous, that is Assad's line, that is Russia's line but it is a big lie. Before there ever was an IS or an al Nusra, there were peaceful protestors. There was also Assad's army of goons who targeted children for torture and killing. There were barrel bombs, artillery shelling, and poison gas used on his own civilian people. Some of the peaceful protestors fled, some took up arms with the FSA, and some joined al Nusra and IS when they got formed.

    There is no conceivable way Assad can win. The majority of Syrians are Sunni and want him either dead or out. They will not stop until they get their way. They are supported by tens of millions of Sunni around the world who will go to Syria to fight him however long it takes to get him out. As Assad's ally, Russia is setting itself up for revenge by Sunni Moslems who are entirely unforgiving of Russia's mistake. Russia is merely increasing the chaos by bombing the FSA. Russia is now involved in two wars and can't win either of them. At the same time Russia's economy is collapsing and Putin has been labeled an international criminal. With all the support he has among Russians, they deserve the fate that will befall them.

    by: M from: USA
    January 26, 2016 10:24 PM
    When will our government realised that Turkey is a big troublemaker and must be dealt with accordingly?

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 26, 2016 3:25 PM
    The only ones actually fighting IS is the US from the air and the Kurds on the ground. Russia's bombing continues to mostly target the legitimate rebels. The US is talking about putting some boots on the ground in both Iraq and Syria. Is this a good idea?

    There will be no peace in Syria until Assad is gone. The whole country seems to have been trashed. The only value Syria has is to Iran and its terrorist army Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey will never give up until Assad is gone and all expectations of Iran as a major power in the region are also gone. This probably means regime change in Iran.
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 28, 2016 10:29 AM
    Given how Maliki wrecked the military the US created to defend Iraq, replaced trained officers with political hacks who cut and ran in the first battle turning over many millions of dollars of US military equipment to IS, and considering how Assad created this catastrophe for Syria all by himself, either country is lucky to get any support from the US. IS is not really a threat to the US the way it is to Europe, Russia, Iran, and others in the region.

    This is not really our fight. I think we should pack up and go home. Leave the cost in money and blood in this war to Europe and Russia. We gave Iraq a chance to create a peaceful prosperous inclusive democratic society and they threw it away over their religious conflicts. Too bad but that's how the world really is. These people are not prepared for democracy, only dictatorships and wars. There are no good guys in this conflagration.
    In Response

    by: Rodney King
    January 28, 2016 4:33 AM
    More lies and distortions from Marcus. The Russian bombing of Oil Convoys and Oil facilities etc. in Syria had done 10 times the damage to IS as the US did bombing a few Toyota's here and there pretending to be taking on IS for over 18 months. They have had to halve there pay rates and since most or in reality nothing but Criminal Mercenaries they are deserting. Russia also by having the guts to stop delivery of supplies and arms by the same route via Turkey also has done them a lot more damage than the USA did in 18 months. Ask Iraq what they think of US actions.

    Iraqi Interior Minister on US support in Iraq to fight ISIS about 3 weeks ago. The air bombing and airstrikes, they do this, but in a limited way, I think – we need more of targeting the enemy, they have enough equipment to target ISIS, I think. We need more of this. In addition, the international community, the coalition forces and, particularly, the Americans, they can help us to put pressure on some countries that are still giving help to ISIS, you know, the recruitment, foreign fighters, financing and support of Daesh.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 27, 2016 12:43 PM
    The bottom line: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey = ISIS and AQ
    The Syrian Government, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran and the Kurds = Fighting ISIS and AQ And, there is no "moderate rebel". Free Syrian Army, the Turkmen Brigades, al Nusra and any other B.S. name = AQ, all are Islamist extremists
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 27, 2016 9:46 AM
    First I must dispel some lies Russia tells over and over again. The US supplied Stinger Missiles and light weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen in the early 1980s. This was to destroy Russian aircraft that were dropping poison gas on them, the same yellow rain Saddam Hussein used on his own people in Iraq. The US did not create al Qaeda, IS, or any other Islamic terrorist organization.

    The US did not start the Arab Spring. That was started by Tunisians themselves when a street vendor had his cart overturned by police harassing him. That was the last straw for tolerating Tunisia's tyranny. The rest of the Islamic Mideast followed that example. Two of the most brutal regimes in the Islamic Mideast are Russia's allies, Syria and Iran. Assad created IS along with the Shia leader of Iraq Maliki who threw American troops out. President Bush and Congress had every reason to believe Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the US. Warnings came from Britain, Putin himself, and Clinton appointed Director of the CIA George Tenet.

    The Islamic world in the Mideast is exploding. The US is foolishly getting involved in mission creep. First air attacks on IS in Iraq, then Syria, then advisers on the ground in Iraq, and now special combat forces in both Iraq and Syria. Bad mistake. The US is not at risk from IS the way Europe and Russia are. Future President Trump's plan to exclude Moslems until we can sift out the terrorists and securing our borders with a wall will minimize the risk to the US. The US should pull out of the Moslem conflict in the Mideast, continue to support Israel, and let Europe and Russia deal with it.
    In Response

    by: Plain Mirror Intl from: Plain Planet - Africa
    January 27, 2016 3:40 AM
    So were Libya rebels legitimate for Sarkozy and Obama in 2011; today their legitimacy is evident in Libya yielding the desired dividend;... isn't it? Common, Marcus wake up!
    In Response

    by: Hung Manh from: Vietnam
    January 27, 2016 1:33 AM
    Hey Marcus Aurelius II. Your government should receive all terrorists named "freedom fighters" and allow them to fly to the US to become US citizens. I bet that they will behead thousands of original US citizen right on the US land. So to the US: Stop exploit terrorists and name them beautifully as freedom fighters to serve your subversion goals because to them "democracy" only means freedom to fight and to kill.
    In Response

    by: Igor from: Russia
    January 27, 2016 1:24 AM
    The US only fight the IS because such terrorist group refused to obeyed Washington's oder. Other terrorist groups have been promoted "freedom fighters" because they are ready to receive US weapons to try to overthrow a lawful government allied with Russia, together with its innocent civilians. Only a fool cannot undersatnd that.
    So all those terrorist groups including those supported by the West must be excluded and must be destroyed without mercy.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 26, 2016 6:56 PM
    Hey Marcus _ You seem to support the US getting rid of the Shia Muslim led government of Assad and Syria, and also supporting the US position that Assad must be replaced by an unelected unnamed unknown unidentified Sunni Muslim Syrian president, in an unelected unnamed unknown unidentified Sunni Muslim Syrian government, and supporting the US position that everything in Syria will be (hunky dory) when that happens then, without explaining why the terrorists would stop fighting or where the terrorists would go?

    PS; IF you lived in the fantasyland that this US commander in chief lives in, then you'd also believe his fairytale proposal for ending the Syrian war? .. Remember that religious terrorists never die of old age if they can prevent it, because they want to die as martyrs to enter paradise, [so], where would all these religious terrorists in Syria go if the US policies of aligning themselves with these religious terrorists prevents them from defeating and destroying them? .. No matter what fantasy fairytale land this US commander in chief lives in, he should be made to realize that religious terrorists are far more dangerous to everybody than any civilized person on this planet? .. think about it?
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 26, 2016 6:37 PM
    There's no "legitimate rebels", all of them are armed, and all are either AQ or ISIS.

    by: Anonymous
    January 26, 2016 2:11 PM
    The Syrian Government Army supported by Syrian people (including the Kurds) and help of Russia/Iran/Hezbollah have liberated key towns from AQ and ISIS and their Saudi/Turkish supporters.

    The only peace deal should be for AQ and ISIS to lay down their weapons and leave Syria and go to the countries that supported them.
    In Response

    by: Jim Mooney from: US
    January 26, 2016 3:33 PM
    Let all the ISIS fighters go back to Turkey. They sell their oil and child sex slaves there, get money and weapons and even hospital care, then are sent back across the border to behead more civilians. Turkey also transfers lots of heroin - which is now killing Americans in large numbers - from Afghanistan. With friends like Turkey we don't need enemies.

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