After the Syria peace talks officially started in Geneva, the political situation around the conflict in that country has deteriorated, while the Russian leadership is now feeling pressure from U.S. and its allies.
The group of the Syrian “opposition” has finally arrived in Geneva behind time, but refused to participate in the direct talks on political issues with the government representatives. The “opposition” wants to discuss “humanitarian issues” only. Among others, they demand that Russia stops airstrikes and the Syrian troops stop the ground offensive against insurgents. The delegation of the Syrian “opposition” says the humanitarian aid has no access to the towns besieged by the government troops. They blame Russia for violating the UN resolution passed last December. The “opposition” representatives demanded an action to stop bombardment of their positions and end the siege of the towns. Otherwise, they threaten to leave the talks. At present, the “opposition” delegation has German financing of its mission for six months.
Representatives of the Syrian Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are not let to the talks, which complicates them even more. One of the most active forces fighting the “Islamic State” - an organization banned in Russia- Syrian Kurds have always insisted on their participation in the Geneva talks as the key condition of the political process and the final success of the talks. Russia insists that Kurds are involved in the peace talks in Geneva, but they obviously do not listen to its viewpoint.
Anne Patterson, US assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and US Syria envoy Michael Ratney met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov on Monday in Geneva and urged Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime to push for settlement of the humanitarian problems in Syria. They openly supported the demands of the Syrian “opposition” delegates concerning the humanitarian issues. It is known that last week, Secretary of State John Kerry used his diplomatic channels to persuade Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov to “play a constructive role at the Syria peace talks in Geneva.”
In particular, Kerry urged Russia to halt targeting “Syrian civilians and opposition members” who are “not part of the Islamic State.” U.S. media say Kerry chose words carefully. In a video message last weekend, Kerry addressed the participants in the Geneva talks and avoided the issue of Russia’s military involvement in Syria. However, observers link the new U.S. Sanctions against Russian nationals under Magnitsky Act to the U.S.-Russia discrepancies over Syria.
Later on February 2, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Russia’s actions in Syria strengthen the “Islamic State” and increase refugee flows. “The Russians say let's talk, and then they talk and they talk and they talk. The problem with the Russians is while they are talking they are bombing, and they are supporting Assad," Hammond said. Actually, the British Foreign Secretary considers it inadmissible holding the Geneva talks and continuing the military operation in Syria simultaneously. “The Russians and the Iranians are working hand in glove with the Syrian regime, and the Iranians are at least as hardline as the Russians about seeking to ensure the preservation of the Syrian regime," Hammond said.
At the same time, the British media that account for a solid part of the international information space, have launched an information campaign to describe vividly the horrors of the Russian airstrikes in Syria and how they obstruct the work of the international humanitarian organizations. British media claim that most of Russia’s airstrikes target the “moderate opposition,” residential districts and markets. The British media push for the idea of Russia’s responsibility for the growing refugee flows from Syria, including via Turkey to Europe. If European leaders fail to stop that process, migration of such huge number of Syrian refugees will have very serious consequences for Europe. Hammond openly blamed Putin for undermining the world community’s efforts towards ending the civil war in Syria. "It's a source of constant grief to me that everything we are doing is being undermined by the Russians," Philip Hammond said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had to respond to the British minister’s public allegations immediately. The Russian Ministry called Hammond’s allegations against Russia as “dangerous misinformation.” Hammond responded immediately saying, there was a limit to how long Russia could pose as a promoter of the peace process. He supposed that Russia could be using the peace process to help Assad create an Alawite mini state in the northwest of Syria. He urged thorough inquiry into what is going on in Syria i.e. Russia’s airstrikes.
Along with this, another violation of Turkey’s airspace by a Russian aircraft further strained the Russian-Turkish relations. On January 31 2016, Turkey’s armed forces were put on alert, after the Turkish militaries and NATO radars detected a Russian Su-34 aircraft violating Turkey’s airspace. Turkey president officially requested NATO’s support. Relying on NATO, Ankara demonstrated that it is not afraid of clashes with Russia in Syria. It is obvious that the threat of armed provocations by Turkey in Syria is much higher now.
Actually, the Syrian conflict gets to a new level, as the peace talks started in Geneva. Russia is openly demanded to stop its military operation in Syria. Insurgents need a pause in the military actions for realignment. Russia has faced allegations of war crimes and violation of the international law. Great Britain initiated this new wave of diplomatic tensions. In the light of these allegations, Turkey showed that it is ready to intervene with the Syrian conflict openly. So far, there are no reasons to think that NATO will not support Turkey on that way. At least, the Western military bloc does not conceal that it backs the Turkish military and political figures. The military and diplomatic situation in Syria is deteriorating.