Following the end of Astana peace talks on Syria that came out with a deal to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria, the Russian officials put a ban on military aircraft operations over the four designated safe zones.
“Aviation operations, especially by the international coalition forces, are absolutely not envisioned,” said the Russian presidential envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentiev, adding that the accord is now a done deal.
The remarks by the envoy of the Russian President Vladimir Putin have come shortly after the three countries of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, as the three main sides pushing ahead the Astana peace process, have reached an agreement to establish safe zones? in some parts of Syria to put an end to the devastating conflict now in its sixth years.
The accord will see setting up four safe zones in Idlib, northern Homs, Ghouta, and south of the country. The plan went into effect on Saturday.
The plan to prohibit military flights to create no-fly zones over parts of Syria was originally an American idea. The Syrian opposition and their Western patrons tried to materialize the plan for the past six years in a bid to bar the Syrian government’s warplanes from striking the militant positions. But now the Russians have taken a preemptive step and implemented the idea in the crisis-hit country to curb the US-led coalition’s military activities and make the Americans play in accordance with the Russian rules.
The agreement saw no direct citation of the US name, but the Russian officials’ interpretation that the deal bans the American fighter jets’ operations over the four zones has provoked many American reactions. The Americans sent out conflicting messages about the Russian plan. After announcement of the initiative, the US Department of State released a statement saying that it welcomes the deal. Then a Department of State official said that the US did not sign the Syrian deal, adding that the Astana agreement cannot exclude any side from chasing the terrorists across Syria and that the Russians’ interpretation of the accord was baseless.
The Pentagon has declined to comment on the new Russian stances, according to the American media.
Some analysts have argued that the mixed and conflicting messages coming out of the White House and the State Department indicates that Washington has yet to make up its mind about the de-conflicting agreement for Syria. Professor Max Abrahams of Northwestern University suggested that there is a real confusion inside the top government circles about adoption of an essential approach on Syria.
Taking into consideration the past Syria-related deals as well as the US failure to observe the terms of the international and bilateral agreements, the analysts cast doubt on success of the Astana truce accord. However, it seems that the Russians are seeking specific goals behind brokering the safe zones plan.
The experts note that safe zones will put the anti-Damascus armed groups in a tight corner. During the past years of the conflict, they supported the idea of establishing safe zones in a bid to paint themselves as protectors of people and President Assad as enemy of his people. But now everything has been turned on its head. Syrian government has backed the plan while militants have come strongly against it, something that will help unmask their real face.
Many voices are now rising against the so-called rebels, saying that anti-Assad groups’ insistence on establishing the safe zones in the past was not meant to protect the Syrian people but only to contribute to the foreign efforts to topple the Syrian government.
Setting up the secure zones in the four parts of the country will allow the government to raise bigger numbers of troops to dispatch to other areas of conflict, not to mention that the army now has more time to focus on battlefields not covered by the ceasefire deal. This comes while the armed opposition, whose militants are now forced to hold their fire, cannot send fighters to other front lines.
On the other side, the word has started spreading that the Syrian army and its allies are bracing for launching new massive operation against ISIS terrorist group in central regions of the country. Meanwhile, yesterday a Russian official said that the de-escalation plan in Syria will improve the Syrian government’s battleground position and make it have the upper hand against ISIS in Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor, where the terrorist group still holds ground.
The new operation is meant to get the government forces, backed by an array of allied forces, closer to Deir ez-Zor in center which is now encircled by the terrorist militants. However, the operation is fully feasible, the military experts maintain, only when the government makes sure that no dangers are posed from Damascus outskirts, Homs, and Daraa.
In general, it appears that Russians want to send a signal to the Americans, telling them that Moscow is now in control of the Syrian airspace and will counter any measure aimed at grounding the Syrian air force’ fighter jets.
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