Russia and the US must unite to end Syria’s suffering

The first order of business would be to reimpose a ceasefire, to bring back hope to the people

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 1:12am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 1:12am

Finding a way out of the carnage that has devastated Syria takes more than a promise. Russia and the US did that in brokering the most recent ceasefire as a lead-in to a new attempt at peace talks, but as in the past, guns, bombs and bickering led to its collapse. The deadly airstrike last Monday on a UN aid convoy, a day after an admitted accidental American raid that killed Syrian soldiers, prompted emergency talks of diplomats in New York on Thursday that quickly broke down. But if the major powers involved in the conflict were earlier able to overcome differences to strike a deal, they owe it to the nation and its people to push ahead with the search for a solution.

The relationship between Moscow and Washington is riven by decades of mistrust. Syria amplifies differences, with Russia militarily and politically supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war against rebel groups and the US seeking his removal for democratic elections. Finger-pointing was therefore inevitable when the Red Crescent trucks carrying UN food and medicine supplies to a rebel-held area near Aleppo were attacked; both nations blamed each other, contending respective fighter jets had been in the vicinity. But the response to such an atrocity should be condemnation and a vow to investigate, not accusations. Syria has ignored all and launched its heaviest offensive in months against opponents in the city.

Airstrikes kill scores in Syria after landmark US-Russia truce deal

Complicating matters is the role of allies and regional powers, their motivation largely self-interest rather than seeking peace. Russia has gained access to a strategic Mediterranean port, the US is assuring its regional military foothold, Turkey’s focus is on undermining Kurdish aspirations, Iran is striving to strengthen its links to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia wants to limit Tehran’s regional influence. Their involvement includes providing weapons and funding to allied fighters.

Those entanglements are bound to threaten ceasefires. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his final address to the General Assembly, made clear that too many nations have blood on their hands over the conflict. The five-year war has left up to 500,000 dead and displaced more than half of the country’s 22 million people, with 4.8 million living as refugees in neighbouring states and beyond.

Russia and the US have given Syrians too much hope to let the gains evaporate in acrimony. They have to find the unity necessary to bring all sides to the negotiating table. But first, they have to reimpose the ceasefire.