|US-backed SDF (yellow) are now face to face with Russia-backed SAA (red)|
On Sunday, the Russian defence ministry held the US responsible for the deaths of senior military advisor Lt.-Gen. Valery Asopov and two colonels who were accompanying him who were killed when their position was shelled by Islamic State (IS) forces in the village of Marat east of the Euphrates River. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov described the deaths as ‘the bloody price for two-faced American policy in Syria,’ adding that ‘the American side declares that it is interested in the elimination of IS … but some of its actions show it is doing the opposite and that some political and geopolitical goals are more important for Washington.’ The accusation was unprecedented, and led to a sharp rise in tension between the two sides.
The more damning accusation, in the view of many observers, is Russia’s claim to have evidence supported by photographs of collusion between US forces backing the SDF and IS east of the Euphrates. It also accuses the Americans of being behind the major assault launched last week by Hay’at Tahrir ash-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front) from Idlib governorate, which they control, against government positions in Hama, aimed at slowing the eastward advance of Syrian and Russian forces towards Deir az-Zour and the oilfields.
On Tuesday, Russian Defence Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Moscow was still awaiting replies from Washington to questions about ‘whom US Special Forces in Syria are fighting with and against’. He referred to images of former IS positions that had been taken by American Special Forces that showed no sign of fighting or aerial bombardment having taken place, and which lacked the protective defences that would normally be expected, implying collusion between the two sides.
The US has had nothing to say about these charges, or about allegations by Iranian commanders that the US held back from fighting IS in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
One of the triggers of the Syrian crisis was that the government in Damascus turned down proposals to build a pipeline through Syria to carry Qatari gas to Europe. It did so partly at the request of Russia, which feared that the project was aimed at under-cutting its own gas exports to Europe. Now another ‘oil war’ seems to be looming in the east of the country.
|Syrian troops who took part in Deir Ezzor battle against ISIL|
For seven years, money and weapons were poured into Syria with the singular objective in the mind and in the mouth of all those opposed to the Syrian government: There is no place for Assad in Syria. That singular goal meant that all those opposed to Assad are lesser “threats” than Assad, including ISIL and Nusra. When Assad outlasted many of the heads of these anti-Assad governments, Like Cameron, Hollande, Davutoğlu, Hamad, and Obama, many realized that “No place for Assad in Syria” is not actually a political platform or plan.
The French president who replaced one of France’s least competent leaders admitted that much when he acknowledged that “there is no credible or capable alternative to Assad.” But even that view, accurate as it may be, does not represent the full truth.
Syria is not a one-man show kind of country that can be compared to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, or UAE. Syria, despite the fact that it has been ruled by a single party, is a nation of institutions and fairly sophisticated civil society. It has a professional military, very efficient bureaucracy, highly educated citizens, diverse and inclusive society, and durably functioning political process and more. That reality might explain the fact that, even during the times when the Syrian government’s hold on power was weakest, major Syrian cities remained loyal to the Syrian state.
So it is no surprise now that, when the Syrian government has regained control over nearly 65% of the country, that the political opposition groups are having hard time finding international sponsors. Even the UN sponsored talks that were routinely held are now less frequent, if not fully absent. The hubris of the opposition groups and its leaders perverted belief that undemocratic regimes like those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE would be reliable partners to help them establish a modern Athenian democracy in Syria are stunning. Their bet on self-interested and authoritarian regimes betrayed the hopes of the Syrian people for stronger Syria and produced a destroyed country that will need nearly half a trillion dollar to rebuild, and decades to heal from a war that touched, through death or injury, every Syrian family.
|Syria Control Map as of 09/05/2017|
|The Syrian government recently breached the 3-year old siege ISIL imposed on Deir Ezzor|
Recent investigative reporting has revealed that weapons continue to reach al-Qaeda affiliate groups in Syria. Weapons shipments reached the group formerly known as al-Nusra as recent as April 6, 2017. The report did not name the government that is paying for these weapons. However, the government of…