Lausanne — an exercise in futility

Oct 17,2016 – JORDAN TIMES –

In the wake of last month’s collapse of the ceasefire in Syria, Russia stepped up its lethal offence on Aleppo with one aim in mind: get the international community to accept Russia’s terms for peace.

The high-level meeting on Syria which took place over the weekend in Lausanne, Switzerland, is unlikely to change the situation on the ground.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov insists that the ceasefire of September 9 failed due to United States’ inability to separate the moderate opposition from Al Nusra Front.

While the previous US-Russian agreement remains ambiguous, leakage from the Russian side indicates that Washington and Moscow agreed to go after Al Nusra Front and other radical extremists once a ceasefire holds.

From a Russian perspective, the collapse of the ceasefire had to do with the US failure to separate clearly moderate from radical elements in Aleppo.

While Russia has been using the presence of radical groups in Aleppo to justify its air campaign, supporters of the moderate opposition remained mostly inactive.

Thus far, Russia is paying no price for its war crimes in Aleppo.

If the international community fails to act differently, there is nothing that will make Russia budge and Moscow will insist on separating moderates from radicals as a pre-condition to agree on a durable ceasefire.

Casting aside any agreement between Kerry and Lavrov, in addition to other key regional countries, there will be no major shift in the position of either side to the conflict.

Hence, there are deep-seated concerns about how to settle the crisis, with pundits believing that there is no working strategy to stem the unbearable violence in Aleppo.

It has become obvious that US President Barack Obama will do nothing on the ground to force Russian President Vladimir Putin to change his mind.

Even in the much-anticipated meeting between Obama and his advisers on matters of national security, Obama failed to send the message that his country will not sit idle by while Russia’s and Assad’s forces continue the genocide of Aleppo.

Obama’s instructions to his aides, to continue looking for a diplomatic solution, must have comforted Putin.

It goes without saying that an American attack on Assad’s troops would embarrass Russia, which would look powerless in checking the American forces.

But short of placing a price tag on Russia’s reckless and brutal air campaign on Aleppo, the US runs the risk of marginalising itself in the Middle East.

Thus far, Obama’s naïve idea of “leading from behind” and not involving his country in another war failed to deter other countries that are taking advantage of the American indecision.

As time goes by, the US is becoming less feared, less credible and less trusted.

Obviously, much of Putin’s bullying tactic has to do with his perception that Obama is simply not a president who can take a decisive decision.

I believe that if the US change its tone and show readiness to interfere, Putin will take that into account and become more forthcoming.

In brief, the key to have Russia agree on a durable ceasefire is deterrence.

The cost-benefit calculation that governs Putin’s mindset has thus far been working to his advantage.

Putin’s affordable “quagmire” in Syria indicates that the worse is yet to come and, therefore, the Lausanne meeting was yet another exercise in futility.


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