The Syrian ceasefire, which has admittedly lasted longer than most people though likely, appears to be in its final death throes. A source close to the opposition said that all representatives of the main groups will leave the peace talks being held in Geneva by Friday, at which point U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura will likely have to officially declare the whole process a failure.
Fighting on the ground in Syria had not really ever fully stopped since the ceasefire was declared in late February, but recent days have seen Assad-backed forces step up attacks around Aleppo and rebels push back around Latakia. In response, reports leaked out yesterday that U.S. intelligence had detected Russia moving artillery away from positions in Palmyra, where they had aided regime forces in pushing ISIS out, back to the north of the country, in what looks like preparations for a serious resumption of hostilities with opposition forces.
The official reaction from the Obama Administration sounded characteristically toothless and hand-wringy. Reuters:
“We’ve been concerned about reports of Russia moving materiel into Syria,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said at a news briefing in Riyadh where Obama was at a summit with Gulf Arab leaders.
“We think it would be negative for Russia to move additional military equipment or personnel into Syria. We believe that our efforts are best focused on supporting the diplomatic process,” Rhodes added.
But have the Obamans perhaps learned something from having the Kremlin play Lucy-with-a-football to their Charlie Brown over the last few months in Syria. Buried at the end of a Wall Street Journal dispatch, there are signs that a harder approach is being bandied about:
In private meetings with Russian officials, Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan has warned that the alternative to the current cease-fire could be a dangerous escalation on the battlefield, officials have said.
The CIA and its partners in the region have been drawing up a list of anti-artillery and antiaircraft weapons which could be provided to the moderate opposition if the cease-fire collapses and full-scale fighting resumes.
Will these threats be carried out by a conflict-averse White House? One can only assume that the Kremlin does not find this kind of talk credible any more and has decided to proceed with its plans. As we noted a few days ago, the head of Iran’s Quds force was in Moscow again (in full contravention of a UN travel ban), presumably planning for the next stage of the war. Furthermore, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Moscow today discussing further deconflicting measures with Vladimir Putin and his top military brass.
It sure looks like the Syrian civil war is about to kick back into high gear.