In a military-diplomatic move Russian President Vladimir Putin has not accepted the advice of his military staff that attacks on Aleppo be restarted which have been stopped by the Russian forces. The strikes were started on 22 September in order to evacuate the eastern Aleppo from the hold of the terrorists who are in opposition to Assad government and has brought the civil war to unprecedented scale. President Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has said that “The Russian president considers it inappropriate at the present time to resume airstrikes in Aleppo. In case of extreme necessity to prevent provocative actions on the part of terrorist groups, the Russian side reserves the right to use all means at its disposal to provide an appropriate level of support to the Syrian armed forces” Moreover it is aimed to maintain the humanitarian aids and “to allow the withdrawal of the wounded and the militants who wish to leave the city. And, which is also significant, to allow our American partners to fulfill the obligations to separate the so-called ‘moderate’ opposition and the terrorists, which they took upon themselves.” The arguments of Putin are worth of consideration. As the decision has been taken on two grounds primarily to continue the humanitarian aid in the city which has been devastated by the conflict between the anti Assad forces and the Syrian –Russian army. The second reason is that Russia has always insisted that the section of the people including the anti government forces who want to leave the area can do so now. The US has been in the process of identifying the moderates among the militants who are ready to evacuate the area; remaining ones will be treated as the main groups of disturbance in the city.
Putin’s move is therefore human centric as well is governed by the realistic assessment of the ground situation in the region. Now US and its associates will have to play an important decision. Putin went against to request made by the military commanders which shows that Russia is in the process of initiating a new policy in the area. The major point is that US role along with Turkey has been highly vicious due to their limited objectives which centre mainly on the removal of Assad and in which they have been unsuccessful largely due to the Russia induced support.
The decision of Russia is important in the background that at the local level the situation is quite grim due to turmoil being enhanced due to anti Assad forces and the Turkish groups. Turkey had participated in the Syrian conflict with the start of operation Euphrates Shield which was targeted to clear the northern Syrian borders from the militants which belonged to IS, PKK and PYD. Turkish army was deeply involved in the eradication of militancy in this area but its real aim was to intervene inside the Syrian lands serving the US interests as it had close contacts with the anti Assad forces which were continuously carrying on the offensive against the regimes. Its supported group Nour al Din al Zenki has target for the Aleppo city though it is still to be seen to which extent it will work out but its working under the Operation Euphrates shield is acknowledged. In fact there is now coalition of the anti Assad forces which have come together; including the Free Syrian Army, Suqour al-Sham Jaysh al-Fateh, Liwa al-Tawhid, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya have now collaborated efforts to face the government forces. Though the Fatah al-Sham-led coalition, known as Jaish al-Fatah has faced casualties in the recent time. Thus the anti government forces are still active with well defined strategy and the well thought programmes. At present the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Ahrar al Sham are in close fight with the regime forces. They have used the explosions and related activities to contain the movement of the Assad forces. They are not silent and Russian objectives of controlling the anti government forces which are supported by US and its allies are yet to be successful in large measures.
In the meantime the western countries have accused Russia for the problems in Aleppo , mainly in the eastern parts where anti Assad forces may be organized. The UN’s British head of humanitarian aid, Christopher O’Brien has said that about 400 people have died in last one month in the area and more than thousand are injured. The UK Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has also attacked Russia by a tweet that ‘World will be sickened by Syrian school bombing. 20+ children dead.’ In the Idlib province city Haas 35 people were killed when a school was hit. The situation is now grim in the Aleppo. The Assad and anti Assad forces with extraneous support are in confrontation with each other. The decision of Putin in this background is of many consequences and needs to be welcomed. The moot point is to identify how long this stay on military operations will continue because as the attacks from the anti Assad opposition forces will increase; Russia will have to take a strong decision. There is need for both the parties to come on the negotiating tables and try to reach a consensus based decision about the Syrian situation. Aleppo fight for both the adverse group has brought the prospects of the next war at least in imagination. Putin’s rejection to his advisors pieces of advice needs to be expanded by all stakeholders. As it offers anew opportunity to contain the conflict in the city of Aleppo. Western power has to decide now in what way they respond to the Russian gestures.
Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Vice Chairman CSSP and Consultant CRIEPS, Kanpur, e [email protected]