Idlib offensive: external players lying in wait

Damascus and Moscow have begun attacks on the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. The offensive in Idlib could not only lead to heavy fighting in the area but also - in the event of poison gas attacks - to a military confrontation between Russia and the Nato states. Can an escalation be avoided?

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Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Moscow must rein in Tehran and Damascus

Radio Kommersant FM calls on Russia's leadership to act purdently in view of the danger of an international escalation in Idlib:

“Moscow could try to convince the hotheads in Damascus and Tehran to restrain themselves and focus on attacking the radical jihadists, while going easy on those who are regarded as allies by Turkey and for whom it is will to accept responsibility. ... That would prevent a mass exodus of refugees which Turkey and the EU so fear. From a military point of view this is of course not the best solution. ... But sometimes political considerations must override military ones. Above all when the risk of a global escalation is so great that the situation can easily get out of control. Then the top priority must be to buy time.”

Die Tageszeitung taz (DE) /

Just power games between the US and Russia

Germany is discussing whether to send its Bundeswehr to Syria in the event of poison gas attacks. Taz is firmly against such a course:

“The current debate won't deter Assad or the al-Nusra Front from using chemical weapons if they think this is in their interest. Long before the US claimed Assad was preparing an attack with chemical weapons Russia had already claimed to have knowledge of the Islamists engaging in such activities. Both claims are part of a propaganda war that is concealing what is really happening over there. Russia wants to forestall the delegitimation of its alleged 'anti-terror war', Trump's military leaders want to demonstrate that they still play a role in Syria. Why should the Bundeswehr get involved in these power games that do nothing to help the people in the region?”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Humanitarian concerns no longer an issue

Turkey is the only state not simply pursuing its own interests in Idlib, Daily Sabah complains:

“Russia, Iran and the U.S. have meanwhile only strategic concerns regarding the crisis and none of the three care about the humanitarian issues. Iran and its proxies, pro-Iranian militias, Hezbollah militants and the Assad regime, commit different kinds of humanitarian crimes by killing innocent civilians. Iran has been supporting the Assad regime and therefore it shares the responsibility for the war crimes committed by the Assad regime. As the most deeply involved state in the crisis by maintaining thousands of its troops on the ground, Iran considers Syria as the main stronghold of its regional policy.”

Apostrophe (UA) /

West has no answer to Idlib

The Western countries have little room to manoeuvre in Idlib, Middle East expert Igor Semyvolos fears in Apostroph:

“Much will depend on the Americans. If all of a sudden Trump or the Pentagon come up with enough arguments to start a series of military attacks, and not just one, the situation could change to a certain extent. If Assad's people then stop the offensive, it would to all extents and purposes mean that the operation had failed. The question is to what extent the Western allies are ready for such a response. I don't have an answer, and I fear they don't either.”

Birgün (TR) /

Little hope for post-war Syria

The three-way summit between Turkey, Russia and Iran in Tehran on Friday has made it clear that the future looks anything but rosy for Syria, Birgün comments:

“According to The Economist's issue of 4 August 2018, rebuilding Syria will require 250 billion dollars in funding, and it's clear that the Syria-Russia-Iran front can't come up with that much. By contrast for Europe, which sees Assad as nothing but a murderous despot, the main priority in the conflict is to avoid another influx of refugees. And Assad himself is pursuing his own interests. He too is looking for ways to create new opportunities from the catastrophe. He sees the exodus of refugees from his country as a chance to create a 'healthier and more homogenous' society.”

Izvestia (RU) /

Turkey a key player

How the situation in Idlib and the entire region develops will depend on Ankara, writes the pro-government daily Isvestija:

“Turkey's goal must be to bring the terrorists, thousands of whom are foreigners, to lay down their weapons and leave the region. ... But there are many hurdles preventing this. Up to now Turkey hadn't moved things in this direction because many of the groups in Idlib have been under its control since the start of the conflict in Syria. It's very tempting for Erdoğan to remain as long as possible in Idlib. Verbally he supports the principle of Syria's territorial integrity, but in reality Turkey has created a kind of protectorate - right next to the US protectorate on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Putin needs the Europeans

The battle for Idlib will decide how the Syrian war ends and who will help rebuild the country, comments Michael Thumann, foreign policy correspondent for the weekly paper Die Zeit, in Deutschlandfunk:

“At the end of the day, everything depends on Putin. If he lets Assad's militias loose on Idlib this will pave the way for the country to be reunified according to the regime's conditions. In response, however, the Turks and Europeans would denounce the torture, murder, expulsions and possibly also gas attacks that are among Assad's preferred methods. Putin will need Turkey, and above all the Europeans, to rebuild the country at some point. That is perhaps the best means for exerting pressure on Moscow. No one would want to help rebuild Syria after a bloody victory for Assad. So Putin is trying to make sure Assad's triumph takes place in slow motion: with gradual advances, feigned negotiations, and a sure victory.”

Duma (BG) /

This time the West is listening to Russia

The West is finally siding with Russia in the Syria conflict, the pro-Russian daily Duma comments jubilantly:

“The US and Europe have already warned that they will attack the Syrian army if it uses chemical weapons. But this time Moscow and Damascus have made sure the West can't cobble together any chemical weapons provocations that could serve as a pretext for military strikes. ... This time Donald Trump won't fall for any lies about an alleged poison gas attack, which means he won't order military strikes against Syria. But if it did come to that, the operation would be for the most part symbolic and would be justified as a 'contribution to the fight against terrorism in the region.'”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Moment of truth for Moscow and Ankara

To avoid a massacre and mass exodus of an unprecedented scale Russia and Turkey must now intervene, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“Russia must exert its full influence in Damascus: its air support. Turkey must at the same time convince the rebels who were once included in the agreements with Moscow to accept the regime's return to Idlib. Together they must fight the [al-qaeda branch] Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The summit meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran, the third guarantor power, offers the opportunity for such agreements.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

The end of the Astana process

Syria diplomacy is in its death throes, writes Hürriyet Daily News:

“The Russian-Syrian duo seems to be very determined in launching a military offensive into the province to eliminate terrorists and to consolidate the regime's control in western Syria before efforts for a political settlement commence. The Russian military strike on Sept. 4 is a clear message to this end, leaving not much hope for diplomacy. If launched despite Ankara's concerns, the military offensive would de facto end the Astana Process, as often stated by Turkish officials. Russia's decision on Idlib will surely lead to a re-definition of its cooperation with Turkey in the Syrian theater.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Europe rich but powerless

It will be decades before the EU can react appropriately to conflicts like that in Syria, the Wiener Zeitung fears:

“That's how long it will take for the union of European nation states to build up the resources and the mental ability to intervene effectively in neighbouring conflicts involving external regional powers - and optimally also be able to take preventive action. And because the EU still has a long way to go, all it can do is worry and hope for the best. Confronted with a bloody final act in its immediate proximity, the largest and most prosperous economic area can do nothing but hope that the bloodshed won't be too devastating and trigger another wave of refugees. Rich and powerless: that's Europe's situation.”

Le Monde (FR) /

EU can exert pressure with money

Le Monde, by contrast, believes that Europe still has the potential for action:

“Turkey, which has already taken in three million Syrian refugees, can't possibly offer shelter to all the people now fleeing Idlib. So the threat of a new refugee crisis hangs over our continent in the run-up to the European elections. The situation is clear. The US is withdrawing and Russia is acting as a regional arbiter. Putin expects the Europeans to finance the reconstruction of the bled-out country, at the helm of which he has reinstated Bashar al-Assad, who massacred his own people. This, however, gives the Europeans financial leverage, which they must use to prevent such a scenario and to demand a political transition in Damascus.”

Aamulehti (FI) /

The cost of inaction

For Aamulehti the war in Syria is proof that the EU must not concentrate exclusively on the protection of its own borders:

“What lesson can be learned from the Syrian war? At the very least that doing nothing can ultimately be more costly for the international community than early and rapid intervention in conflicts. Nothing in the history of the European Union has caused as much turmoil for it as the wave of refugees triggered by the war in Syria. The rise of radical movements in Europe shows that inaction gnaws away at liberal democracy. The European Union should stop just concentrating on defending its own territory and start getting ready to be able to intervene militarily in conflict regions like Syria.”