In Multipolarity

By Ivan Nechepurenkov, New York Times, Wednesday, Nov 2, 2016

And further below: ‘Russia says Syria peace talks halted indefinitely’, The Guardian, Nov 1, 2016

MOSCOW — Russia announced on November 2 that it will extend a moratorium on airstrikes in the Syrian city of Aleppo until Friday to give embattled anti-government rebels a chance to leave the city and to “avoid senseless victims” of continued fighting.

Under terms of the ceasefire ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, insurgents would be allowed to retreat “with their own arms” through two corridors between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time on Friday. Six separate corridors were to be established for the evacuation of civilians and those needing medical attention.

Last month, Moscow was accused of war crimes by the United States and others as it unleashed the heaviest bombardment of the war in an effort to break the will of rebels and civilians surrounded by government forces in eastern Aleppo.

Moscow called off airstrikes on the city ahead of a three-day truce on Oct. 20 intended to let rebels and civilians leave. The effort largely failed, with both sides accusing the other of attacking anyone who tried to leave.

With a growing humanitarian crisis and the prospect of renewed bombing, the Kremlin is trying to find a way to persuade the rebels to quit Aleppo and in that way avoid a blood bath and a renewed round of criticism.

“All attempts by insurgents to break through in Aleppo have failed,” Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said in a statement. “The terrorists have suffered heavy losses in lives, weapons and military equipment. They have no chance to break out of the city.”

One of the two exit corridors would lead to the border with Turkey, the other to the rebel-held town of Idlib, Syria, the military official said. The Syrian government has approved the decision and is prepared to pull back its army from the two corridors, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Speaking to a group of top Russia experts last week, Mr. Putin said that his country was determined to rout the rebels from Aleppo, but was trying to avoid collateral damage.

“We keep hearing Aleppo, Aleppo, Aleppo,” he said. “Do we leave the nest of terrorists in place there, or do we squeeze them out, doing our best to minimize and avoid civilian casualties?”

In separate remarks on Tuesday, the Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, blamed the West’s failure to cooperate with Moscow and to resist “terrorists” in Syria for an indefinite suspension in peace talks. Russia refuses to distinguish among groups fighting the government, considering all of them, even moderates backed by the United States, to be terrorists.

“The prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” Mr. Shoigu said.

Officials from Russia have repeatedly tried to deflect accusations that its military is adding to the carnage in Syria, saying its forces are there to support the legitimate government and to fight terrorism, along with distributing humanitarian aid.

At a recent news conference, Vitaly V. Naumkin, a Syria expert who also serves as an adviser to Russia in the United Nations, said that the anti-Russia campaign in the West over Syria amounted to “hysteria,” including what he called exaggerated casualty figures.

Russia wanted to help establish the conditions needed for national reconciliation, he said, which it considers the only path out of the war. “We have our common enemy, terrorism, that it is what we have to fight against,” Mr. Naumkin said.

Despite an almost complete breakdown in talks with the Obama administration over Syria, Mr. Naumkin said he would travel to the United States this week for discussions in Washington about resuming cooperation.


Russia says Syria peace talks halted indefinitely

By Patrick Wintour , diplomatic editor, The Guardian, Nov 1, 2016

Western failure to rein in rebel attacks on civilians in Aleppo has delayed resumption of negotiations, says defence minister

Peace talks over the fate of Aleppo are on hold indefinitely because rebels backed by western governments have been attacking civilians in the west of the Syrian city, the Russian defence minister has said.

Sergei Shoigu’s remarks came as he confirmed that Russia’s naval convoy, led by its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, had reached the eastern Mediterranean to strengthen Moscow’s attack capabilities, despite the refusal of NATO countries to help with refuelling and supplies.

Shoigu said the lack of cooperation by the Spanish and Maltese governments showed the West was not interested in combatting terrorism in Syria.

The West, he added, had failed in its paramount duty to separate legitimate opposition fighters in rebel-held eastern Aleppo from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the al-Qaida-linked group formerly known as the Nusra front. The U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, acknowledged the U.S. needed help in this area during remarks made in London on Monday.

Shoigu said rebels had been attacking civilians in western Aleppo despite a pause in Russian and Syrian air attacks. “As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” he said.

Since 18 October, Russia and its Syrian allies say they have halted airstrikes in Aleppo. Civilian deaths from Russia’s devastating air campaign had drawn widespread condemnation.

Shoigu, who was addressing a meeting of Russian military officials, attacked rebels and their backers, saying they had squandered a chance for peace talks. “It is time for our western colleagues to determine who they are fighting against: terrorists or Russia,” he said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television. “Maybe they have forgotten at whose hands innocent people died in Belgium, in France, in Egypt and elsewhere?”

On Monday, Kerry insisted discussions were still being held with the Russians on how to reconstruct a ceasefire, but admitted progress was difficult and there was a risk Russia would seek to “blow Aleppo to smithereens” .

A ceasefire could be agreed, he said, if Russia halted its bombing campaign long enough to allow countries backing the legitimate Syrian opposition to persuade those forces in Aleppo to separate themselves from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

Shoigu’s remarks suggest the Russians are very likely to focus on a military response for the foreseeable future.

The Russian northern fleet’s aircraft carrier group began its voyage to the north-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean on 15 October. The group comprises the Admiral Kuznetsov, the heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy, the large antisubmarine warfare ships Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov as well as support vessels.

Ravina Shamdasani, a UN human rights spokeswoman, said all sides in Aleppo may be committing war crimes through indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas. The UN estimates 250,000-275,000 civilians are trapped and 8,000 rebel fighters holed up in the eastern part.

“All parties in Aleppo are conducting hostilities that are resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties and creating an atmosphere of terror for those who continue to live in the city,” Shamdasani said.

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