The Syrian deadlock: Where do the sides go now?

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighborhood of Mashhad, Syria, Sept. 27, 2016.

In this photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, Syrians inspect damaged buildings after airstrikes by government helicopters on the rebel-held Aleppo neighborhood of Mashhad, Syria, Sept. 27, 2016.

AP
Russia and the West's reciprocal accusations are becoming louder and louder after the latest failure of the peace process in Syria. Russian experts believe that the growing tension is not only undermining the possibility of reconciling Damascus and the opposition but is also threatening the apparent reestablishment of relations between Russia and the West.

The mutual recriminations between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Syria have become ever shriller after the ceasefire concluded by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 10 failed a week after going into effect.

Following the incident on Sept. 17 in which U.S. forces mistakenly bombed Syrian government troops in Deir ez-Zor and the bombing of the UN humanitarian convoy on Sept. 19, for which the West blames Russia, the war has recommenced with even more intensity.

Government forces and opposition divisions are fighting for Aleppo, where a humanitarian catastrophe already reigns. Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S., which is supported by other Western countries, are fervently criticizing each other, with each side convinced that its opponent's actions are to blame for the breakdown of the peace process.

Passions growing

"We are on the verge of suspending the discussions," said John Kerry on Sept. 29 as he spoke about the negotiations with Russia on the peace process in Syria. In his view, talk of establishing peace is becoming meaningless since attacks on rebel positions have renewed in Aleppo and trust between the two sides is lacking.

And this is not the harshest statement coming out of Washington. Earlier, U.S. Department of State Spokesman John Kirby blamed Russia for the continuation of the Syrian conflict (because of Russia's support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad), saying that the consequences for Moscow will be that terrorists will attack Russian cities and Russia "will continue to send troops home in body bags."

Responding to Kirby's words, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called them "unconcealed cynical threats," while Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Kirby's statement revealed that the Syrian U.S.-backed opposition is actually "an international terrorist organization." Kirby later stressed that his words did not contain any threats.

Road to peace blocked

Russia and the West's rhetoric is becoming more and more aggressive, driving the peace process into a dead end, says professor Grigory Kosach, an Arab scholar at the Russian State University for the Humanities.

"Both on the Russian and Western sides the "parties of war" are gaining the upper hand. They do not wish to reconcile with each other and do not want to speak about restarting the political process in Syria," said Kosach.

In his view, the prospects of renewing the peace talks are bleak. Representatives of the Syrian Opposition High Committee for Negotiations has announced that it will be impossible to restart them, which means that the militias seeking to remove Assad from power are ready to continue fighting.

On the other hand, notes Kosach, Assad is no less belligerent and in the present conditions he holds the key to the Moscow-Damascus axis.

"In many aspects Russia is just going with the flow in its relations with the Syrian regime,” he said, describing this position as extremely disadvantageous.

Maxim Yusin, an analyst for the Kommersant business daily, agrees with Kosach: "Advocates of the hard line in Damascus stubbornly continue to declare an unachievable objective – winning the war," he told Kommersant radio.

Yusin believes the situation has reached an impasse: Neither Assad nor the opposition has the resources to win the war. There are no alternatives to a peaceful regulation, but currently the sides are obviously not ready for it.

Syria and sanctions

Speaking about what Washington sees as an extremely unconstructive position on the part of the Kremlin, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said on Sept. 27 that the U.S. and its partners may impose additional economic sanctions on Russia. Later such a possibility was also mentioned by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in an interview with Sky News.

Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov responded by insisting that the mention of sanctions engenders "profound incomprehension" in those who are aware of the “real” state of affairs concerning the regulation of the Syrian conflict, adding that following a policy of sanctions would lead to nothing good.

"I think that the West will not introduce new anti-Russian sanctions, but the situation with the existing ones is already getting worse," said Sergei Karaganov, dean of the World Politics faculty at the Higher School of Economics.

In his view, cooperation between Russia and the West on Syria had previously opened possibilities for collaboration in other spheres, including the potential removal of sanctions. Now, however, after the failure of the peaceful regulation and the growth in reciprocal distrust, this possibility can be forgotten.

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