UN envoy to Syria tells world to listen to Russia to end civil war

Al-Dubeit neighborhood in Idlib city, April 5, 2015. (Reuters/Ammar Abdallah)
The UN special peace envoy to Syria has urged the international community to take advice from Russia to resolve the four-year-long civil war that has claimed 210,000 lives and left 1.5 million Syrians with injuries and disabilities.

“Russia has influence on Damascus, and it’s very important that they get involved," Staffan de Mistura, who was challenged by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Thursday to relaunch the failed political peace process in Syria, told The Independent.

“The two countries’ relationship goes back to the time when Bashar al-Assad’s father was in power. Therefore the Russians do have a knowledge of the system and the way they think,”
the Swedish-Italian diplomat said.

The civil war in Syria began in 2011, when the US-backed opposition began an armed rebellion against President Bashar Assad’s government during the Arab Spring. By 2013, large portions of eastern Syria and western Iraq had fallen under control of militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL, now known as Islamic State). While declaring the need to fight ISIS, Washington has continued to demand the overthrow of Assad in favor of “moderate opposition.”

READ MORE: Assad: Anti-ISIS coalition doesn’t want to get rid of Islamic State completely

The US has been supporting the Syrian rebels, who insist that the Syrian president should be ousted. Meanwhile, Russia has used its veto on three occasions since the outbreak of the conflict to prevent the UN Security Council from taking punitive actions against Bashar Assad. In January, Russia and the US held the Geneva-2 peace talks between Assad’s government and the Syrian opposition. No agreement was reached after two rounds of negotiations, however.

Last September, the US-led coalition started airstrikes in Syria as a part of a joint effort to battle Islamic State militants, who had seized large swathes of land in north Syria and Iraq. Assad repeatedly pointed out that strikes are an illegal intervention, saying they are unauthorized by a UN Security Council resolution and thus violate the sovereignty of Syria.

The Syrian president told Russian media in late March that the West does not have a political solution to the crisis in Syria, and claimed it is only interested in destroying his government.

“They want to turn us into puppets. I do not think that the West has a political solution. It does not want one. When I say the West, I am primarily referring to the US, France, the UK. Other countries are secondary,” Mr Assad stated, adding that to halt the ongoing armed conflict in Syria countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some European states should first and foremost stop arming the terrorists. He told journalists that the Syrian Air Force, which is relatively small in comparison to the US-led coalition, conducts in a single day many times the number of the airstrikes conducted by a coalition that includes 60 countries. “This doesn’t make sense. This shows the lack of seriousness,” Syria’s president said. “They don’t want to get rid of ISIS completely,” he added.

Syria has meanwhile turned into a hotbed for international terrorism. Assad's government has been long sounding the alarm, saying foreign fighters were increasingly present among the rebel forces for years, but neighbors like Turkey chose to turn a blind eye to the stream of extremists traveling across the border.

READ MORE: ISIS taking advantage of Syrian conflict, opposition & govt should cease fire – UN envoy tells RT

Experts told UN Security Council in March that up to 22,000 foreign fighters from around 100 countries went to Syria and Iraq to join various radical groups. The area has turned into a global training ground for extremists. “For the thousands of [foreign fighters] who traveled to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq ... they live and work in a veritable 'international finishing school' for extremists as it was in the case in Afghanistan during the 1990s,” the experts wrote in their report, Reuters reported.

Staffan de Mistura told RT in March that it would be far easier to address the issue of ISIS in Syria if the opposition and the government negotiated a ceasefire.

"Every conflict needs to start with some type of discussion, among the Syrian people in this particular case. We have a new factor which is called Daesh/ISIS. And I’m sure I believe that this is certainly increasing the urgency of addressing the conflict in Syria. Daesh has been taking advantage of the fact that there is a weak environment in Syria and a conflict which has been going on for the last four years," he said.