Russia softens up West for bloodbath it is planning in Syria’s Idlib province

By | September 2, 2018

Simon Tisdall writes:

Russia is going to extraordinary lengths to justify in advance the murderous onslaught that observers fear is about to descend on Idlib, a province in north-west Syria that is home to nearly two million internally displaced people. Idlib is the last large populated area outside the control of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s dictator. And Assad, backed by his Russian and Iranian allies, is determined to get it back – whatever the human cost.

In a series of coordinated moves last week, Russian government officials and military spokesmen tried to pre-empt or deflect western opposition to the expected air and ground offensive. Partly it was pure propaganda. Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, accused the US of plotting forcible regime change in Damascus. “Again, we are witnessing serious escalation of the situation,” he claimed.

Unfortunately perhaps, this is disingenuous fantasy. A distracted Donald Trump has shown no interest in toppling Assad. He has ended support for rebel groups and given Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, a virtual free hand. Airstrikes by the US, France and the UK after Assad’s chemical weapons attack on Douma in AprilWEBLINK proved to be an ineffective one-off. Trump has turned his back on Syria and plans to pull out the remaining US special forces fighting Islamic State as soon as possible.

The escalation is all on Russia’s side. It is assembling a naval armada off the Syrian coast, comprising 25 ships, combat aircraft and the missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov – the biggest show of force since Putin intervened in Syria in 2015. The fleet is ostensibly engaged in exercises. But Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, admitted the drills were directly linked to Idlib, which he termed a “terrorist hotbed” that must be tackled soon. [Continue reading…]

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