MOSCOW, Feb 19, (AFP): Russia’s envoy to the UN on Friday warned long-term ally President Bashar al- Assad over his vow to retake all of Syria, saying he faced dire consequences if he did not comply with Moscow over the peace process. “Russia has invested very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically and now also militarily,” Vitaly Churkin told Kommersant daily, referring to an international agreement to cease hostilities sealed in Munich last week.
“Therefore we would like Assad also to respond to this,” he said, adding that the Syrian leader’s stance “is not in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making.” At their meeting in Munich, the 17-nation group backing Syria’s peace process agreed to work for a ceasefire, the lifting of starvation sieges and the resumption of talks.
In an interview with AFP last week, Assad defiantly pledged to retake the whole of the country, speaking before the plan for a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria was announced. Asked to comment to journalists on the unusually outspoken criticism of Assad, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday said President Vladimir Putin backed the Syrian peace process but stressed that the ceasefire had not yet been implemented. “Everyone including President Putin recognises that there is no alternative other than a political resolution,” he said. Nevertheless the ceasefire “is now being worked out, discussed. Wait, let’s not run ahead,” Peskov said.
In the interview, Churkin, who has served as Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations since 2006, stressed that if Syria “follows Russia’s leadership in resolving this crisis, then they have a chance to come out of it in a dignified way.” “If they in some way stray from this path — and this is my personal opinion — a very difficult situation could arise. Including for themselves,” he warned. “If they proceed on the basis that no ceasefire is necessary and they need to fight to a victorious end, then this conflict will last a very long time and that is terrifying to imagine.”
Syria is “already on the brink of falling apart,” he said. Meanwhile, fighting raged on in Syria on Friday, as a hoped-for ceasefire failed to materialise and Turkey intensified its shelling of Kurdish-led forces. Further dampening hopes for an end to the conflict, the UN peace envoy admitted a February 25 date for a resumption of stalled peace talks was no longer “realistically” possible. On the ground, Turkey intensified its nearly week-long shelling of positions in Aleppo province, where it has sought to halt the advance of a Kurdish-led alliance against rebel forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Ankara’s overnight bombardment was the heaviest since it began targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Saturday.
Turkey also expanded its fire, the Britain-based monitoring group said, hitting the Kurdish town of Afrin for the first time, where two civilians were killed and 28 wounded. Ankara has been angered by the SDF’s operation in Aleppo province, where it has seized key territory from rebel forces supported by Turkey. Ankara considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF to be an affiliate of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. It accuses the YPG and PKK of being behind a bombing that killed 28 people in the Turkish capital on Wednesday night, a claim denied by the Syrian Kurdish group. Ankara fears the SDF advance in Aleppo province is intended to connect Kurdish-held areas in northern and northeastern Syria, creating an autonomous Kurdish region extending along most of its southern border. Further east, SDF forces were advancing against the Islamic State group in Hasakeh province, the Observatory said.