Russia “Makes the Weather” in Syria under Deal with US

The new US-Russian special mechanisms for mutually enforcing the next stage of their plans for Syria went into action this week. On Feb. 28, Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, head of Russia’s center for coordination of the Syrian cease-fire, asked his opposite number at the head of the American center for clarifications of the Turkish attacks in Syria after the ceasefire went into effect last Saturday.
He accused the Turks of sending armed troops into the El Abyad region as well as cross-border shelling of Kurdish forces fighting in that vicinity. Ankara’s intervention, coming as it did during a crucial battle between the Kurdish YPG militia and the Islamic State, gave the jihadists the edge.
The Russian general sent his request to his opposite number at the US coordination center at the Central Command war room north of Amman, which is shared with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Whereas Moscow ordered Lt. Gen. Kuralenko to make his request to the US center public, Washington remained silent.
The US and Russia have evidently agreed to refer all ceasefire issues to the US war room outside Amman instead of addressing them to superior officers or officials in the two capitals.
The British are clearly put out by the unexpectedly close sync between the two powers and especially touchy about Washington’s deference to Moscow. Lt.-Gen Sir Simon Mayall, senior Middle East adviser at the UK Ministry of Defense, remarked sarcastically Tuesday, March 1: “My worry is that the Russians are making the weather.”
That President Vladimir Putin has been confirmed by Washington as calling the shots in Syria prompted official assurances to Western news organizations and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office that the cease-fire is holding. They also reported that the Russians had halted their air strikes on rebel positions, when in fact the opposite is true.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, Russian aerial and artillery bombardments resumed at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Feb. 8, the second day of the cease-fire, and are continuing. They are targeting rebel forces holding the line around the towns of Aleppo and Hama and Idlib in northwestern Syria, deliberately pounding them with tank guns, heavy artillery and MLRS rocket launchers.
The Russian operations lay bare their agenda:
1. The seizure of Idlib province: Russian, Iranian and Hizballah forces aim to break rebel control of this northern Syrian district that abuts on the Turkish frontier, as DEBKA Weekly first disclosed in its last issue of Feb. 26. It is Putin’s intention to keep Ankara under constant military pressure.
Turkish President Reccep Erdogan pretends to ignore this, but he is careful to order his military forces to stick to shelling Kurdish forces in Tell Abyad several times a day, but nothing more.
He has also been slapped with stern US warnings to hold his fire and stay out of the Syrian war.
Washington sent similar hands-off messages to Riyadh, which did not stop the Saudi Air Force moving four F-16 fighter-bombers to the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik on Feb. 29.
The Turks and Saudis have taken the US warning as deriving from the free rein Washington has given Moscow – not just to “make the weather” in Syria but also to set the temperature.
2. Still to come is the second stage of Putin’s plan, which is to wrest southern Syria from rebel hands and hand it back to President Bashar Assad’s rule. There, Russian, Iranian and Hizballah forces will fight to seize Jisar al Shughour and then Daraa, before tetching up on the Syrian-Jordanian border in a move parallel to the takeover of the Syrian-Turkish frontier.

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