Tuesday 20 March 2018

Russia warned of war during run-up to deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Reuters

In THE hours preceding the agreement of a Syrian ceasefire, Russia warned of "a new world war" starting in Syria - amid threats from Gulf states that they were prepared to dispatch ground forces.

Russia and the US set out very different terms for a truce. It is hoped that the ceasefire will enable them to concentrate on the fight against Isil.

Tensions deepened as the Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, dug in, insisting they were committed to sending ground troops to the country.

Their favoured rebel groups have been pulverised by Russian air raids and driven back on the ground by Iranian-supplied pro-regime troops.

However, the presence of troops from Gulf states that have funded the Syrian rebels would be taken as a hostile act by the Assad regime and its backers, and a sign that they were committed to staking their claim to a say in the final Syrian settlement.

It was then that Moscow issued its chilling warning of the potential consequences.

"The Americans and our Arab partners must think well: do they want a permanent war?" prime minister Dmitry Medvedev told Germany's 'Handelsblatt' newspaper.

"It would be impossible to win such a war quickly, especially in the Arab world, where everybody is fighting against everybody. All sides must be compelled to sit at the negotiating table instead of unleashing a new world war."

Under the UN Security Council resolution passed in December, the ceasefire would exclude Isil, the local al-Qa'ida branch Jabhat al-Nusra, which operates throughout rebel territory, and other UN-designated terrorist groups.

Since these are being attacked by the US and Russia, as well as the regime, the terms of the resolution mean the only group that would have to stop fighting under the terms of a ceasefire would be the "moderate rebels" backed by the West.

This they are unlikely to do voluntarily.

Saudi Arabia is also said to be furious that its main regional rival, Iran, has been allowed to consolidate its power bases in both Iraq and Syria because of the civil wars in both countries and under the cover of an international air campaign supposedly targeting Isil.

Its defence ministry spokesman, Ahmed al-Assiri, said its decision to send ground troops to Syria was "irreversible".

The kingdom, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is offering to provide the troops the US-led coalition needs to take on Isil on the ground under coalition air cover.

Humanitarian aid is to be delivered to besieged areas in the next few days, followed by a "cessation of hostilities" - a term distinct from ceasefire, apparently allowing for a likely resumption of violence - within a week. (© Daily Telegraph London)


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