On Wednesday, the United States warned Russia over its Syria policy saying Moscow was trying to challenge the U.S. presence in northeastern Syria by violating the terms of a de-confliction agreement. The U.S. also accused Russia of helping escalate the fighting in the northwestern province of Idlib.
James Jeffrey, U.S. special envoy for Syria engagement and fight against Islamic State, said the United States was “very very worried” about the Syrian government assault, backed by Russia, on Idlib, and he repeated calls on Moscow to stop it.
This is a dangerous conflict. It needs to be brought to an end. Russia needs to change its policies.
The United States, France and the United Kingdom called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday to discuss the situation in Idlib.
President Donald Trump softened his plans to pull out U.S. troops from Syria after backlash from Congress, and has kept around 600 troops, largely in northeastern Syria to continue the fight against Islamic State.
However, in northwestern Syria, the United States has no troops on the ground, but it has several military assets and bases within reach of the Syrian territory. Mainly the Incirlik air base in Turkey equipped with the latest stealth bombers and jet fighters.
The Idlib violence has accelerated in recent months despite several ceasefire efforts, including as recently as January.
“ASSAD WOULD NOT SURVIVE A WEEK WITHOUT RUSSIAN ASSISTANCE”
On Wednesday, Syrian government forces entered Saraqeb in Idlib. It is a renewed push by psychotic Assad to recapture the last rebel stronghold.
We’re seeing not just the Russians but Iranians and Hezbollah actively involved in supporting the Syrian offensive. We don’t know whether the offensive is just to get to the M4-M5 road, or it may continue further.”
M4-M5 is in reference to the strategic highways connecting Syria’s Aleppo to Hama and Latakia.
Jeffrey said Moscow could change its policies and meet the requirements of the international community without ousting Assad.
Those requirements are not unreasonable. … They require a change in that (Assad) government’s behavior. That government would not survive a week without the Russian assistance.
RUSSIA VIOLATING DE-CONFLICTION AGREEMENTS
Northeastern Syria is a complicated battleground with forces of the United States, Turkey and Russia as well the Syrian government and aligned Iranian militia operating, sometimes in close proximity.
Moscow has been filling the vacuum of U.S. withdrawal from the area President Obama masterminded during his tenure. It has been ramping up its military presence in Syria’s northeast. The de-confliction agreements between the two sides ensure they avoid any clashes.
But Jeffrey on Wednesday said there have been more incidents of Russia’s violating the terms of de-confliction. He characterized it as an attempt to challenge the U.S. presence in there.
Reuters contributed to this article.