PHOTO: President Obama at the US-ASEAN summit in California on Tuesday (Kevin Lemarque/Reuters)
President Obama has reasserted that Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s conflict will put Moscow into a “quagmire”, despite the success of an offensive in northern Aleppo Province enabled by Russian bombing.
Obama said, in response to a question at a Tuesday press conference, that Russia’s intervention from September 30 — killing thousands of civilians and destroying hospitals, schools, markets, and infrastructure as well as supporting ground offensives — was “a testament to the weakness of [Syrian President] Assad’s position”:
If somebody is strong, then you don’t have to send in your army to prop up your ally. They have legitimacy in their country and they are able to manage it their self, and then you have good relations with them. You send in your army when the horse you’re backing isn’t effective.
He repeated his statement from last autumn that “Russia would involve itself in a quagmire”:
Absolutely, it will. If there’s anybody who thinks that somehow the fighting ends because Russia and the regime has made some initial advances — about three-quarters of the country is still under control of folks other than Assad. That’s not stopping anytime soon….
[Russian President] Putin may think that he’s prepared to invest in a permanent occupation of Syria with Russian military. That’s going to be pretty costly. That’s going to be a big piece of business. And if you look at the state of the Russian economy, that’s probably not the best thing for Russia.
The President said that Russian action had done nothing to achieve the real goals in Syria: “stop the suffering, stabilize the region, stop this massive out-migration of refugees who are having such a terrible time, end the violence, stop the bombing of schools and hospitals and innocent civilians, [and] stop creating a safe haven for ISIS [the Islamic State]”.
Obama put his emphasis on the renewal of attempts at “proximity talks” between the Assad regime and the opposition-rebel bloc, highlighting last week’s declaration by the International Syria Support Group of the pursuit of a “cessation of hostilities”.
In a shift of American position, he blamed Moscow for undermining the attempt at negotiations, suspended in Geneva earlier this month after no success in a five-day gathering: “If Russia continues indiscriminate bombing of the sort that we’ve been seeing, I think it’s fair to say that you’re not going to see any take-up by the opposition.”
Immediately after the suspension of the Geneva discussions, US Secretary of State John Kerry told aid workers that the Syrian opposition was to blame for the failure and warned that three more months of Russian airstrikes would “decimate” opponents.
Obama gave no indication that the US would provide any support to the rebels, who are being threatened by a Kurdish offensive — also supported by Russian bombing — as well as the regime-Hezbollah-Iranian ground assaults in northwest Syria. Instead, he repeated that the priority was the fight against the Islamic State:
This has not distracted us from continuing to focus on ISIL. And we continue to press them hard both in Iraq and Syria. That will not stop. And if we can get a political transition in Syria, that allows us to coordinate more effectively with not just Russia, but other countries in the region to focus on the folks who pose the greatest direct threat to the United States.