Whither US-Rus­sia co­op­er­a­tion in Syria

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - BY PA­TRICK COCK­BURN

THE Bri­tish par­tic­i­pa­tion in the mis­di­rected US-led air raid that killed at least 62 Syr­ian sol­diers and the fi­nal break­down of the shaky six-day truce com­bine to un­der­line the need to bring the war to an end and to em­pha­sise how dif­fi­cult it will be.

The co­in­ci­dence that the blunder took place just as the cease­fire agreed be­tween Rus­sia and the US on Sept 10 was col­laps­ing is sym­bolic of the dan­ger that so many foreign and lo­cal pow­ers are now mil­i­tar­ily en­gaged in Syria that they are bound to col­lide ac­ci­den­tally or on pur­pose. An in­ter­est­ing fact to emerge from the in­ci­dent is that the US claims it told the Rus­sians about its in­tended air strike on Deir Ez­zor be­fore it took place and, soon af­ter, the Rus­sians told them they were hit­ting the wrong tar­get.

Clearly, there is a high de­gree of US-Rus­sian mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion in place, but it is still not enough to pre­vent ac­ci­dents on a chaotic bat­tle­field or en­force a cease­fire, which never com­pletely took hold. The Rus­sian Min­istry of De­fence said yes­ter­day that a “cease­fire” was mean­ing­less in the light of rebel vi­o­la­tions. The rebels say that the Syr­ian air force had re­sumed bomb­ing in East Aleppo and in Deraa in the south. The UN aid con­voys for East Aleppo are still in Turkey, just as they were six days ago. Who is most at fault is im­pos­si­ble to dis­en­tan­gle.

One of the many dif­fi­cul­ties in es­tab­lish­ing even tem­po­rary and lo­cal cease­fires in Syria – and the prob­lem is far worse in the case of a na­tional truce – is that the ha­tred be­tween gov­ern­ment and rebel sides is so in­tense there needs to be mon­i­tors to im­ple­ment and po­lice any agree­ment or it will col­lapse. With­out such a mech­a­nism, no­body will re­lax their fin­gers on the trig­ger. A UN mon­i­tor­ing mis­sion op­er­at­ing in Syria in 2012 was more suc­cess­ful than it was given credit for, but few gov­ern­ments will be will­ing to risk their sol­diers for a UN mis­sion in a place as dan­ger­ous as Syria.

The most im­por­tant ques­tion is the ex­tent to which the fail­ure of the cease­fire is fol­lowed by an es­ca­la­tion in fight­ing as hap­pened in some parts of Syria af­ter the last un­suc­cess­ful truce in Fe­bru­ary.

The de­gree of vi­o­lence in Syria is never de­cided solely by lo­cal an­tag­o­nists but by the ex­tent to which their re­gional back­ers – Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran – are will­ing to sup­port them. This has been the pat­tern in the past and is likely to con­tinue. What is un­clear is how far the US and Rus­sia are ca­pa­ble of real co­op­er­a­tion and how far both were try­ing over the last week to get their lo­cal al­lies to abide by the truce. – The In­de­pen­dent

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