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Introduction — Feb 14, 2016

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond speaks during a press conference. Click to enlarge

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond speaks during a press conference. Click to enlarge

Phillip Hammond’s claim is an astounding piece of double-talk. Because the West could end the war in Syria just as easily, but don’t expect the British Foreign Minister to elaborate on that particular point.
All the West has to do to end the conflict is end support for its proxies — the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition forces — but that isn’t going to happen. The West isn’t going to accept responsibility for prolonging the war in its efforts to oust Syrian President Assad. Just as it once refused to accept responsibility for arming Saddam Hussein.
So instead Western politicians like Hammond are trying to shift the blame onto Putin. Thereby moving the focus of attention away from the desperate efforts of their proxies to oust President Assad.
Over the past few decades the West’s foreign policy has been based on disinformation and downright lies. With the assistance of a compliant corporate media we’ve been fed stories about Saddam’s WMD, to justify the Iraq invasion, stories about bin Laden hiding in Afghanistan, which rationalised the 2001 invasion, and now stories about the “moderate Syrian opposition”.
This latest episode of Western adventurism is being carried out through proxies because the Western public would be unlikely to approve their armies engaged in another war after Iraq and Afghanistan. At least not without an immediate readily identifiable threat, although this is being cultivated in the form of Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS or Daesh).
Instead the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” are being bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and there is often little to differentiate them from Sunni extremists opposed to President Assad.
Nor is there any guarantee that IF those opposition forces do succeed in ousting Assad they won’t suddenly transform into adherents of radical Islam.
With Russian and Iranian intervention that now seems unlikely, for now at least, but that doesn’t mean the West and its allies won’t give up trying. Ed.

Putin could end Syrian war with one phonecall, says Philip Hammond

Frances Perraudin and Kareem Shaheen — Guardian Feb 14, 2016

Putin demonised as the new Hitler. Click to enlarge

Putin demonised as the new Hitler. Click to enlarge

Vladimir Putin could end Syria’s civil war with one phonecall, Britain’s foreign secretary has said.

Calling on the Russians to end airstrikes on moderate Syrian opposition fighters, Philip Hammond said: “There is one man on this planet who can end the civil war in Syria by making a phonecall and that’s Mr Putin.”

He said the political situation in Syria had not changed in the past year. “Whether or not Assad goes or stays ultimately will depend on whether the Russians are prepared to use their influence to remove him. That was exactly the same a year ago,” he said.

On Saturday Turkey said it had shelled a Kurdish militia in northern Syria and said it, along with Saudi Arabia, would consider sending ground troops in.

The US has urged Turkey to turn its attention to fighting Isis after world powers including the UK, the US and Russia agreed to pause hostilities in Syria on Friday – an agreement that did not have the backing of the Syrian government or include attacks on Isis or al-Nusra Front.

Renewed violence in the multi-layered conflict threatens to upend the truce agreed in Munich, which calls for a “cessation of hostilities” within a week and the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged areas around the country.

An aerial campaign by Moscow launched last autumn and intensified in recent weeks has driven the most significant gains by the regime of Bashar al-Assad since the start of the war, having primarily targeted mainstream rebels bent on overthrowing him.

On Sunday the Kremlin said Putin and Barack Obama had discussed the crisis in a phonecall, agreeing that the deal reached in Munich was a positive step and pledging to implement the ceasefire and the delivery of aid.

But Moscow continued to bomb areas in the provinces of Latakia and Aleppo on Sunday, abetting a regime advance days after the Munich deal. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with wide contacts inside Syria (and a highly suspect track-record.Ed.), said Russian warplanes had carried out an intense bombardment in northern Aleppo backing an offensive of troops loyal to Assad.

The Aleppo offensive, which risks encircling rebels that hold half of Syria’s largest city, has displaced 51,000 civilians, according to a UN official, who described the situation as “grotesque”. An additional 300,000 people are at risk of being placed under siege, and many fleeing civilians have sought refuge near the Turkish border, potentially exacerbating the refugee crisis. Turkey already hosts more than 2 million war-displaced Syrians.

Ankara was drawn further into the crisis on Sunday, shelling positions held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. Turkey fears the YPG is bent on establishing an autonomous Kurdish-ruled statelet on its border. The country is embroiled in fighting an insurgency by the PKK, a separatist Kurdish organisation that has been designated as a terrorist group and which allegedly maintains close ties with the YPG.

On Saturday the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, demanded that the YPG withdraw from areas it had conquered in Aleppo. A senior Syrian Kurdish official rejected Ankara’s demands in an interview with Reuters, saying Turkey had no right to interfere in Syrian affairs.

But it appears Turkey’s role will grow in the coming weeks. A Saudi military official confirmed that his country sent fighter jets to Turkey’s Incirlik airbase in preparation for stepping up its operations against Isis in Syria.

At a security conference in Munich on Saturday, the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, said the world was slipping into a “new cold war” and warned that a lack of cooperation threatened to return the continent to “40 years ago, when a wall was standing in Europe”.

Medvedev rejected the widely held belief that Russian planes had hit civilian targets in Syria. “There is no evidence of our bombing civilians, even though everyone is accusing us of this,” he said.

“Russia is not trying to achieve some secret goals in Syria. We are simply trying to protect our national interests. Creating trust is hard … but we have to start,” he said. “Our positions differ, but they do not differ as much as 40 years ago.”

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, responded to Medvedev’s comments by saying: “To date, the vast majority, in our opinion, of Russia’s attacks have been against legitimate opposition groups and to adhere to the agreement it made, we think it is critical that Russia’s targeting change.”

He added: “If people who want to be part of the conversation are being bombed, we’re not going to have much of a process.”

Speaking on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr show on Sunday, Hammond said Russian air attacks were weakening Syrian opposition forces, but Assad was still not in a position to defeat them.

“The Russians have launched ferocious air attacks, rapidly increasing the intensity of them over the last few weeks and that has forced [the moderate opposition] out of some of the positions that they control,” Hammond said.

“But the important thing is the Syrian regime does not have the forces, does not have the strength and the organisation to take control of those areas, so it’s a bit of a stalemate.”

He added: “We demand that the Russians comply with their obligations under international law and their obligations under UN security council resolutions which they have signed up to.”