Confrontation of global powers in Syria

After the US's withdrawal from the Syria talks and Russia's veto on a UN resolution, relations between the two major powers are at a new low point. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet in Lausanne on Saturday in an attempt to defuse the tensions. Commentators assess the chances for détente and a ceasefire in Syria.

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Star (TR) /

What counts is who is sitting at the table

The success of the Syria conference will depend on the list of participants, the pro-government daily Star underlines:

“In Syria and also in Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are seen as supporters of the 'Sunni' opposition; the leaderships in the capitals of both countries have declared them unwelcome. And the US too, counts them on the list of those allies with whom they are least in agreement. If the participants are limited to this group, the conference could head in several different directions. First there is the possibility that Russia will act as a mediator between the US and the above-mentioned countries on the contentious issues. … On the other hand, a thaw in the relations between the two superpowers is unlikely if regional power Iran isn't invited. One has to admit that the Lausanne conference can't be expected to produce a solution if Iran and Israel aren't present.”

Le Jeudi (LU) /

Only interested in victims because we're losing

The significance given to civilian casualties in Syria says much about how each side assesses their position in the war, Le Jeudi comments:

“You have to call a spade a spade: if here in the West we speak more of victims than of strategies, it's above all because 'we' are losing this war. The proof is that we almost never talk about the fate of Yemeni civilians who are suffering as much as the Syrians. We're losing the ground war but at the same time we have the vague impression that we're winning it as well because we're more 'humane' than Russia and Assad. As for the Russians, they've managed to regain a foothold in the Middle East and are determined to remain there. The Kremlin won't shy away from this civilian massacre. ... . Because the battle of Aleppo is so geopolitically promising that the fate of the city's population doesn't particularly interest the Russian regime.”

Kaleva (FI) /

Russia's weak economy to blame?

The low price of oil could be one reason for Russia's military engagement in Syria, Kaleva speculates:

“Russian-American relations have deteriorated at a fast - and worrying - pace. Within just a few months the two countries have regressed almost to the point they were at in the iciest days of the Cold War. ... The key word is oil: Russia is not happy with the way the prices are developing. Putin may be trying to push up the world market price of oil with his intervention in Syria. Apart from cheap oil, the economic sanctions imposed by the West in reaction to the occupation of Crimea have hit Russia hard. Russia suffers from a significant budget deficit which has forced it to dip into its pension and social funds. The cooling of relations with the West is first and foremost the result of domestic considerations.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Old rules no longer apply in Syria

Who is your ally and who is your foe can change very quickly in Syria depending on the location, the pro-government daily Yeni Şafak points out:

“It is almost impossible to understand the unbelievable changes that have taken place in the Middle East in the last five years. The situation can no longer be resolved through conventional political means. The political stage is so slippery, so changeable and so unreliable that years of diplomatic rules, international agreements and alliances suddenly no longer apply. … Look at the situation in Syria. West of the Euphrates we [Turks] are rivals of the US and allies of Russia. East of the Euphrates we're rivals of Russia and partial allies of the US. … In Syria the alliances, rivals and opponents of these countries vary almost from city district to district. This is a very confusing, dangerous and risky situation.”

Le Vif / L'Express (BE) /

Why Obama is only intervening in Iraq

Barack Obama has once again stepped up US military presence in Iraq for the planned storming of the IS stronghold of Mosul, but he continues to reject military intervention in Syria. Le Vif/L'Express attempts to explain why:

“In democratic countries where the least military initiative is cause for debate, a legitimate question arises: can we be happy with the fact that Barack Obama has decided to take military action [in Iraq] prior to the American presidential election even though he has obstinately refused to take significant action in Syria? Things have come so far that we are now seeing the establishment of two very different fronts. In Syria, the US's continued reluctance to take military action leads one to think that the goal is more to stand up to Russia than to topple the regime in Damascus. In Iraq, everything seems to indicate that the Obama administration urgently needs a decisive victory against the self-proclaimed caliphate in Mosul.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

West not innocent in Middle East

The West is now paying the price for not having set up a no-fly zone over Syria, Handelsblatt criticises:

“Such a step is no longer possible now that Russia has control over Syrian airspace - which it would defend tooth and nail. ... Putin has fought hard to secure himself an equal place on the world stage. He benefits domestically from his power struggle with the US at others' expense, and Assad remains his guarantee for the only Russian military base in the Mediterranean region and in the Middle East. But the West is also not innocent: the disastrous invasion of Iraq by the US under George W. Bush - which was supported by then opposition leader Angela Merkel even though it contravened international law - ultimately laid the foundations for the rise of the terrorist Islamic State. ... And finally it was a mistake to negotiate with Russia to find a solution for Syria for so long that Assad became weakened by the rebels and the IS - paving the way for Moscow's current involvement.”

Milliyet (TR) /

Obama at an impasse

The US is currently unable to act in the Middle East, Milliyet comments:

“The situation in Iraq and Syria increasingly resembles an impasse. Especially with operations in Mossul and Aleppo pending. ... As regards the starting date for the operations, the US leadership is under huge time pressure. The prevailing opinion is that they should start even before the presidential elections. Wars are inherently risky and full of uncertainty. The first rule for dealing with uncertainty is good leadership and the ability to take quick decisions. But when elections are taking place, political and military answers to war situations can be delayed. On the other hand Obama's promise not to send in ground troops limits the options of those planning the operations. With this statement he has blocked any leeway regarding the scale of the war and prevented any new alliances.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

End collision course with Russia

After the proposal put forward by France and Spain for a resolution to the Syrian crisis failed due to the Russian veto, François Hollande is wondering whether he should even meet with Putin when the Russian president visits Paris next week. Le Figaro would like to see a more pragmatic stance:

“It is flippant, out of place even, for a head of state to voice his doubts and diplomatic moods in public. We are already familiar with Hollande's propensity to comment on current events - far more than we are with him actually taking action as president - and now we see him commenting on his own indecision! ... This situation is an embarrassment for France, and only weakens our voice in an already complex conflict on which we are having a hard time making ourselves heard at all. It's not by treating Russia like an enemy that France will come up with solutions for destroying the IS and ensuring a change of regime in Damascus. France would do well to focus more on pragmatism than on moral deliberations.”

Novosti (HR) /

Russia and US poised for open conflict

The session of the UN Security Council may well have been the penultimate step towards an open confrontation between the US and Russia, writes Novosti, the paper of the Serbian minority in Croatia:

“Contrary to the claims of Western analysts, the Security Council did not show that Russia has once again prevented an end to the civil war. Rather it became clear that the West's goal is to topple Assad and put 'its' player in power. The whole story about the fight against Islamist terror is no more than that: a story. ... Washington's strategists want to reduce Russia to the status of a second-rate power once more, - nothing but a regional power, as the American president once quipped. ... If this hapless session marked the beginning, Russia's shooting down of American jets attacking Aleppo will be the first note of the thundering finale.”

Hürriyet (TR) /

Imperialists chopping up Middle East

The failure of the UN resolution is bitter proof of the catastrophic state of global politics, Hürriyet believes:

“The world has become ungovernable. If one of the five countries in the Security Council puts in its veto the UN is paralysed. And since the US and Russia never have the same goals there is never a UN decision. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in dreadful circumstances in Syria. Palestine has been full of pain for years. Africa is a disgrace for humanity. And the world is only fuelling the conflicts. In sum: the imperialist appetite of those who have been trying for hundreds of years to redraw the world's borders has not been sated. It grows bigger from generation to generation.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

More dangerous than the Cold War

The current confrontation between the US and Moscow is even more dangerous than the situation during Cold War, according to Il Sole 24 Ore:

“History never repeats itself completely, only partially: in the case of Putin, Marxist ideology has been replaced by authoritarian populism. … Meanwhile the potential threats remain the same. Only the knowledge of not being able to destroy the other without being destroyed prevents disaster. With a serious complication: since the suspension of the Nato-Russia Council in 2014 there is no channel for avoiding misunderstandings and accidents. Never before have there been so many warships on the Baltic Sea or so many aircraft in the sky above it. Even more dangerous is the situation in Syria, where the Russians and Americans are fighting right next to each other on the same battlefield. It would be catastrophic if populism were to try to simplify this dangerous political season too.”

Dnevnik (BG) /

Russia's nostalgia plunging world into the abyss

Russia will stop at nothing to regain its former power, Dnevnik notes with dismay:

“Those who say that Russia is becoming impoverished due to the low price of oil, that its economic might corresponds to that of Spain, for example, and that Putin is only bluffing are dangerously wrong. Putin is using a tactic reminiscent of that of the Islamic State. The organisation's budget is smaller than Albania's, but that doesn't stop it from spreading terror around the world. Russia wrongly believes that the myth of its great past will automatically define its future. A similar nostalgia for lost power and glory led to the outbreak of the Second World War. Then, too, Europe reacted too late and had to pay a high price for it - and still is today.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Impose new sanctions on Moscow

There's no negotiating with Russia, Dagens Nyheter believes, calling instead for sanctions such as those imposed over the Ukraine conflict:

“A number of countries, from Italy to Hungary, want to ease or even end the sanctions. ... But the sanctions were caused by the crisis in Ukraine. In this respect nothing has changed. Moreover, you can't ignore the Russian war crimes in Syria. ... The bottom line is that it's not possible to be partners with Putin's Russia. The country is a saboteur with whom one must talk, but which must never be rewarded with concessions. If anything the horrific atrocities in Syria are reason enough for the US and the EU to extend the sanctions. ... The problem in Ukraine was Russia. And in Syria too, unfortunately, Russia will not be part of the solution.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Obama leaving a big mess to clean up

No matter who wins the US presidential election he or she will have a good deal of cleaning up to do, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung comments:

“Now the US has even fewer options in Syria. The suspension of talks with Russia and the bitter mutual recriminations mark a new low in relations with Moscow. Whoever wins the US presidential election, he or she will have a huge mess left by Obama to clean up. Sorting out this mess doesn't just mean putting the policy vis-à-vis Russia on a more realistic footing. The next administration in Washington will also face the challenge of repairing America's damaged credibility.”

More opinions

The Guardian (GB) / 05 October 2016
  Russia and the US have no power over Syria