After only three days of talks, the UN-sponsored conference about Syria in Geneva has ended abruptly.
UN special envoy Staffan Di Mastura had trouble admitting the talks were a failure and insisted they would resume at the end of this month.
“This is not the end or the failure of the talks, but I’m not prepared to have talks for the sake of talks,” he said Wednesday during a press conference after the parties already started to blame each other for the failure of the conference. Di Mastura called upon all the parties to work harder to make the talks a success.
In a follow-up statement, he seemed to blame the Assad regime for what he calls the suspension of the talks. Di Mastura said in the statement “the government’s failure to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Syria by allowing food and medicine into rebel-held towns had prevented any serious discussions,” The New York Times reported.
A spokesman for the Syrian government said the suspension of the talks was the failure of everybody except the government of the Syrian Arab Republic (Assad’s regime), because they had arrived on time while the opposition arrived six days late and refused to engage directly with the other parties. The Syrian spokesman also said the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that consists of several opposition groups — but not Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic State and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), who were not invited to the conference — was disorganized and contained “terrorists.”
The Kurds left Geneva after they discovered their participation had been blocked by the other opposition bloc supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The Obama administration reportedly abandoned the Kurds after Turkish pressure.
The government spokesman especially blamed the Turks, the Saudis and the government of Qatar because they are “the handlers and the masters” of the High Negotiations Committee.
The HNC and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, however, blamed the Assad regime and its allies for the failure of the talks.
Kerry issued a statement that said the Assad government must cease the bombing of rebel forces and added it is “past time for them to meet existing obligations and restore the international community’s confidence in their intentions of supporting a peaceful resolution.”
The opposition held the Assad regime fully responsible for the scuppered talks. The HNC pointed to the fact that government forces launched a major offensive in the Aleppo region at the moment the conference started. The offensive succeeded to cut off a major supply route to the city from the Turkish border.
Opposition groups in Aleppo now fear that the city will soon be encircled by Assad’s army who receive air support from Russian warplanes.
At the same time, government forces backed by Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias succeeded to break a three-year rebel siege of the Shiite villages of Nubl and Zahraa west of Aleppo.
This move enabled the militia of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to advance along the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday the Kurdish YPG militia had taken control of Al-Ziyara and Khuraybika—two villages in the Shirawa region of the Afrin Canton a couple of kilometers from the liberated Shiite villages. The Kurds seek to connect the Kurdish Afrin Canton to the already autonomous cantons Cizire and Kobane along the Turkish border. If they succeed they will control the whole border area with Turkey in Syria.
The Kurdish move has exacerbated tensions with Turkey. Russian military officials think the Turkish army has now received orders to prepare for an invasion of Syria. The Turkish invasion should halt the YPG advances and open supply routes to Islamist rebel groups supported by Ankara.
The situation has also increased tensions between Russia and Turkey. Russia claims Turkish forces killed a Russian military advisor earlier this week and accuses Turkey of shelling Syria. The Russians claim they have video evidence of the Turkish military activity in Syria and have demanded an explanation from NATO about the Turkish aggression.
Turkey claimed a Russian warplane again breached its airspace Jan.30 and now accuses Russia of supporting the YPG advances along the Turkish border. The Turks have threatened they will not tolerate new territorial gains of the YPG in the direction of the Mediterranean coast.
“The PYD (YPG) has been getting closer with both the United States and Russia of late. We view the PYD as a terrorist group and we want all countries to consider the consequences of their cooperation,” a Turkish official told Reuters. “With support from Russia, the PYD is trying to capture land between Jarablus and Azaz, going west of the Euphrates. We will never accept this.”
The alleged alliance between Russia and the Syrian Kurds will no doubt cause Obama to have a severe headache.
When Turkey makes good on its threat to stop the Kurdish advance in the direction of the Afrin Canton (see map) by intervening in Syria, Washington will face a dilemma. The Obama administration will have to choose between support for the YPG the only force that has been effective in the battle against Islamic State and its staunch ally Turkey that allows the U.S.-led coalition to use the Incirlik airbase for attacks on Islamic State.
The collapse of the conference in Geneva is related to this looming major escalation in the 5-year-old Syrian war. It has become clear that several parties in the talks have no interest in ending the war at this point. Russia is one of these parties, and the Islamist opposition is another. What we thus can expect is an escalation of the fighting and more death and destruction.
To give you an idea about the shocking level of destruction in Syria we advise you to watch this video of Homs, the third largest city in the country. The images were made by Russian drones: