PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama at the UN on Monday



Analysis: Walking Into the Abyss — “Assad is Not A Better Alternative to the Islamic State”

After days of build-up and following their speeches to the UN General Assembly, very little came out of Monday’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama over the Syrian conflict

The first encounter between the two men since 2013 was spurred by Moscow’s escalating military intervention in Syria and its political initiative to keep President Assad in power during a transition.

The Russians have had some success this month in their move for a high-profile international conference to confirm Assad’s stay while a political resolution is sought. The US, as well as allies like Germany and Britain, have publicly stated that Assad does not have to step aside while discussions are held about Syria’s future.

However, there was no reference after the Putin-Obama meeting to the substance of the process. Instead, Later, a “senior US official” said the two sides “fundamentally disagreed” on Assad’s role: “The Russians see Mr Assad as a bulwark against extremists; the Americans see Mr Assad as continuing to fan the flames of a sectarian conflict there.”

Putin told Russian journalists:

[The meetings] was very useful and, what is particularly pleasant, it was very sincere. I think that our American partners explained their position quite clearly on many issues, including settling the situation in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the Middle East overall. Indeed, surprising as it may seem, we have many coinciding points and opinions about all these issues. We also have differences, which we have agreed to work on together.

I hope that this work will be constructive.

Putin indicated that Russia would not yet carry out airstrikes as they are “illegal” because “there is neither a Security Council resolution on the issue, nor a corresponding request from the official authorities in Damascus”.

The Russian leader said that while Moscow is “considering what kind of additional support we could give to the Syrian army in fighting terrorism”, there could never be any consideration of “participation of Russian army units”.

However, he continued, “As for our involvement, we are considering it. We do not rule out anything, but if we do act, this will be in strict compliance with the norms of international law.”

Two Differing Speeches

In his morning speech, Obama said, “The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.” However, he immediately jumped beyond the negotiations to declare, “But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo….Realism…requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.”

See Syria and Beyond Video Feature: Obama Speech at UN “We Will Join Discussions with Russia and Iran”

Hours later, Putin used his speech to put pressure on the US and its partners, saying they had fueled violence and chaos through their support of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa:

Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: Do you realize what you have done?

Instead of discussing the process for a political resolution in Syria, the Russian leader insisted that there must be an alliance with the Assad regime — “similar to the anti-Hitler coalition” — against the Islamic State: “No one but President Assad’s armed forces and Kurdish militia are truly fighting [them].”

See Syria and Beyond Video Feature: Russia’s Putin to UN “Do You Realize What You Have Done?”

An Obama Administration responded to Putin’s grand coalition proposal: “Knock yourselves out”.

However, Putin held his line with the Russian journalists, rejecting Obama’s criticism of Assad:

I have great respect for my colleagues – both the American President, and the French President – however, as far as I know they are not citizens of the Syrian Republic and therefore should not take part in determining the future of another state’s leadership. This is the Syrians’ business.

However, this is a deep conflict, and a bloody one, unfortunately, which is why I said that alongside support to the official authorities in their struggle against terrorism we would insist on political reform and a political process to be conducted at the same time. As far as I know, President al-Assad agrees with this. He said so directly in his recent interview with the Russian media.

OBAMA PUTIN 28-09-15

Obama and Putin exchange a toast at an evening reception before their meeting (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey.

American spokesman John Kirby again avoided details about the Russian initiative. He merely said the Ministers “discussed ideas for building renewed and credible diplomatic momentum that could bring an end to the conflict and allow Syrians to chart a peaceful future without Assad”.

Regime Airstrikes Destroy Another Hospital and Kill 3 Staff, This Time Near Damascus

Regime airstrikes destroyed the only hospital in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Kafr Batna on Monday, in the latest of a series of attacks on medical facilities that have killed dozens of doctors and Civil Defense workers in the East Ghouta area this year.

The hospital in Kafr Batna “was directly targeted by three missiles”, said Mohammad Ballour, the administrative director. Three staff were killed and two injured.

Monday’s airstrike was the fourth aerial attack against civilian institutions in East Ghouta this month, according to Mahmoud Adam, the Outer Damascus Civil Defense spokesman.

Physicians for Human Rights said last week that the regime carried out “an unprecedented number of attacks on medical facilities” in a four-day period in August in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, with the highest toll among medical personnel since October 2014.

Between August 7-10, Syrian government forces launched aerial attacks on nine medical facilities in the province. All were at least six miles from the nearest frontlines between forces.

PHR documented three additional aerial attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in August, bringing the month’s total to 12, along with the deaths of 15 medical personnel.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, PHR has recorded a total of 307 attacks on 225 medical facilities, killing 670 personnel. The regime is responsible for more than 90% of the attacks. From March through August, PHR documented 74 attacks on medical facilities, the highest number in any six-month period throughout the conflict.

Video: Rebels Claim Advance in Offensive in Southwest Syria

Fighting at Tal al-Ahmar (see map) in Quneitra Province in southwest Syria on Monday:

The rebel offensive to link Quneitra with their territory in West Ghouta, near Damascus, began last week. If successful — and alongside a push on the northeast side of Damascus to take key areas near Adra and Harasta and the Damascus-Homs highway — the advance would threaten to surround the capital with rebel forces.

After days of a news blackout on operations,Rebels claimed success in their offensive on Monday, including the capture of positions in Trinjeh near the regime’s Brigade 90 base.

Rebels move on an underground bunker and a tunnel-trench system:

Shelling of the Brigade 90 base:

Russia Moves 6 Advanced Fighter-Bombers to Syrian Airbase

Oryx Blog, a top observer of military deployments in the Syrian conflict, documents Russia’s move of 6 Su-34 fighter-bombers to its expanding airbase in Latakia Province in western Syria.

The Su-34s join 28 fighter jets, as well as transport aircraft, strategic airlifters, attack helicopters, and drones at the Bassel al-Assad airport.

The fighter-bombers, carrying drop tanks, reached Syria without refuelling from other aircraft.

A claimed photo of one of the Su-34s flying to the airbase:


Activists: 82 Killed Across Syria on Monday

The Local Coordination Committees report confirmation of 82 deaths on Monday, including 17 children and 13 women.

In Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria, 40 people were killed by regime shelling on the town of Mayadeen. Another 18 were slain in and Damascus in and near areas such as ‎Kafar_Batna‬, ‪‎Jobar,‬ and ‪Nashabiyeh.