Russia and the Assad regime have been tightening the noose around the sprawling and long embattled northwest Syrian city of Aleppo, creating a whole new surge of refugees escaping the violence. Today Russia also claimed USAF Warthogs bombed the city which is supposedly devoid of ISIS fighters while also warning of world war should Arab troops invade Syria.
As Russian bombs rain down on Aleppo, the vast majority of them unguided, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the US is also involved in the bombing. This came after Russia was accused by the Pentagon of bombing the two main hospitals still operating in Aleppo. The Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Igor Konashenkov rebutted the claim, stating that Russian airplanes never got closer than six miles to Aleppo during the time of the supposed bombing, but U.S. aircraft were hitting targets in the city instead:
“Yesterday, ... two A-10 attack aircraft of the U.S. Air Force entered Syrian airspace from ... Turkey and, reaching Aleppo by the shortest path, made strikes against objects in the city.”
This claim has been flatly denied by U.S. officials and if recent history is any indicator, no manned U.S. aircraft regularly venture in that part of the Syria.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister and Putin’s right-hand man Dmitry Medvedev had some ominous words for the U.S. and its Arab allies in regards to the possibility of Arab and Turkish forces taking part in some sort of a ground operation in Syria:
“This is bad as a ground offensive usually turns the war into a permanent one. Just look at what happened in Afghanistan and many other countries... The Americans and our Arab partners must think well do they want a permanent war? 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.”
Just saying everyone has to be on the same page is not the same of actually realizing such a complex set of compromises and competing factors. Russia may have no intention of actually making the necessary compromises that will be needed to become part of a broader international strategy when it comes to the Syrian maelstrom. The fate of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad in particular is a major sticking point among many others. On the other hand, Russia could see such a situation as an exit strategy from their current deepening position in the Syrian civil war. Still all sides would have to give something to make it happen and command and control and applied tactics are a whole other issue. It is doubtful that the U.S. or its allies would sign off on Russia’s dumb bombing campaign for instance nor will they classify anti-Assad fighters as terrorists along with ISIS as Russia currently does.
Yet today’s news is not all bad when it comes to Syria. Among the accusations of who bombed what came a glimmer of humanitarian hope. An agreement for a temporary ceasefire in one week has been brokered between the U.S., Syria, Russia and Syrian aid groups. During this time period aid will supposedly be distributed to areas hardest hit by the fighting. This does not include those areas held by ISIS, who are nowhere near an international negotiating table and ISIS targets in the country’s east will still be fair game.
Sadly, ISIS’s brutal siege on Deir ez-Zor is among the most critical humanitarian crisis in the region and even with this cease fire, there will be no relief for those trapped in the city.
Still, this ceasefire, if it is actually adhered to, should hold Assad’s forces and the Russian bombers at bay for a period of time, and if successful it could potentially lead to a larger peace deal. As for how long it will last, we will have to wait and see. It does seem a little strange that Assad’s forces and Russia will have almost finally sacked Aleppo just as a ceasefire is agreed to. They still have one week to get the job done. That is if the ceasefire will actually be implemented in a comprehensive way at all.
Photo credits: Top photo USAF, other photos AP