Putin’s Double Game: Yes to Syrian Ceasefire – No to Halting Russian-led Offensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin talked by phone to his two Middle East allies Wednesday, Feb. 23 – just three days before the US-Russian orchestrated partial ceasefire was scheduled to halt hostilities in Syria.
His conversations with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, were held the day after Putin and President Barack Obama squared away the details of their ceasefire accord.
According to debkafiles intelligence sources, the content of the Russian president’s conversation with Obama bore little resemblance to what he discussed with the two Middle East leaders. His moves were the quintessence of doubletalk, double vision – or even double dealing.
Whereas Putin and Obama had agreed on a comprehensive cessation of hostilities in Syria under the oversight of the Special US-Russian Task Team, the Russian leader’s conversations with Rouhani and Assad, took the opposite course:
They covered agreements for Russia to back the continuing Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah military offensive – even to the point of assigning new targets.
So, although Putin had on the one hand agreed to the Syrian ceasefire going into effect after Friday midnight, he also approved the nonstop continuation of belligerent operations.
This approval was encapsulated in the language of the two statements: After the Putin-Assad call, the communiqué said: “The two presidents stressed the need to continue fighting the Islamic State and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front as well as “other terrorist groups.”
“Terrorist groups” in the Syrian ruler’s vocabulary covers all his adversaries whatever their stripe.
The statement issued after the Putin-Rouhani call carried the same message: “A focal point was the Syrian issue – in particular the discussions and initiatives and proposals made in the joint statement of Russia and the United States on the cessation of hostilities…included the continuation of the resolute fight against ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and other terrorist organizations.”
The phrase “other terrorist organizations” approved by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry was cunningly misused by Putin as a loophole for permitting his Syrian and Iranian partners to continue the war, on the pretext that many anti-Assad rebel militias included pro-ISIS or pro-jihadist elements.
This blanket violation of the ceasefire deal was incorporated in the side-accords the Russian leader concluded with his two allies. Sunday, Feb. 21, Russian defense minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu arrived in Tehran to work out the details of the Russian-Iranian-Syrian plan for their “ceasefire offensive.”
DEBKA Weekly bares the bones of this plan:
1. The combined Russian-backed Syrian-Hizballah-Iranian force will break off its assault on Aleppo without completing the encirclement of the town’s rebel strongholds. Since those rebels are anyway on the verge of collapse, the combined force loses nothing and will be credited with making a goodwill gesture for maintaining the ceasefire.
2. The combined force will head from Aleppo to rebel-held Jisr al-Shughour, a town in eastern Idlib province 105 km from Aleppo.
3. After capturing Jisr al-Shughour, the combined force with Russian backing will go for the entire northern Syrian province of Idlib, which borders on the southern Turkish province of Hatay (see map attached to the article: Has the Russia-Turkey Vendetta put Disputed Turkish Hatay on the Block?).
Under Russia’s lead, the combined force will take up positions along the Turkish border.
In apparent response to this still secret scheme, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned Thursday, Feb. 25: “This [Syrian cease-fire] deal is not binding for us… When Turkey’s security is at stake, Turkey will not get permission from or ask permission from anyone. We will do what is necessary because from that moment onwards, it will not be a Syrian issue but an issue for Turkey,”
4. The “ceasefire offensive” plan will also go forward without interruption in the South. Syrian army, Hizballah and pro-Iranian forces, with Russian air cover, will fight to drive the rebels out of the region and seize the entire Syrian border belt abutting on Israel and Jordan.

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