A US envoy voiced guarded optimism Thursday at renewing cooperation with Russia to seek an end to Syria’s brutal civil war, assessing that Moscow is getting frustrated with President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russia may be more willing now — we’ve seen some indications in the Russian media and in certain Russian actions — to be more flexible on the constitutional committee,” said James Jeffrey, the US pointman on Syria.
“They may once again be willing to talk with us about a way to resolve this short of a military victory,” he told reporters.
“Because it’s very clear at this point to Russia that they’re not going to get a military victory — certainly no time soon.”
Russia, along with Iran, backs Assad and Moscow deployed forces in Syria in 2015 to boost his campaign to crush rebels as well as extremists from the Islamic State group.
Jeffrey in May 2019 joined Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks with President Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort of Sochi where the rival powers looked at ways forward together on Syria.
But since then, a UN-backed constitutional review has made little progress at finding a peaceful end to the war that has killed more than 380,000 people since 2011.
US hopeful for new Russian cooperation on Syria: … backs Assad and Moscow deployed forces in Syria in 2015 to boost his campaign to crush rebels as well as extremists from the Islamic State group. https://t.co/APLzbaTk5b #war #islamicterrorism
— Ultrascan HUMINT (@ultrascanhumint) May 7, 2020
Syrian forces also led a deadly offensive to take the last rebel bastion of Idlib until a ceasefire between Russia and Turkey, which backs the insurgents.
As proof of purported Russian frustrations, Jeffrey said that Moscow also saw a dire economic situation in Syria.
Jeffrey pointed to widely noticed recent Facebook posts by powerful Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf — a cousin of Assad, who usually brooks no dissent.
Makhlouf accused security forces of detaining his employees and criticized the state’s recent payment demands for his company Syriatel, the country’s largest mobile phone provider.
“It’s exposing the dirty laundry in one of the worst regimes in the 21st century,” Jeffrey said.
“We’re hoping it indicates that there will be more dislocation and more disintegration of that evil regime.”
The Syrian Civil War
More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.
More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from the so-called Islamic State. This is the story of the civil war so far, in eight short chapters.
Pro-democracy protests erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.
The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation. The government’s use of force to crush the dissent merely hardened the protesters’ resolve. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country.
Opposition supporters eventually began to take up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas.
Violence escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns, and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital of Damascus and the second city of Aleppo in 2012. Cooperation on Syria can extinguish this burning fire.
By June 2013, the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict. By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000, according to activists and the UN.
The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against Mr. Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension.
This dire situation requires cooperation on Syria more than at any given time and a peaceful solution must be devised to end this conflict.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk