Date: 30 June 2018
Trump’s Syrian Trap Before the Summit with Putin
Speculations about a meeting between Russian and American presidents aroused at the very beginning of a new war campaign in Syria. Such a date can hardly come as a coincidence. Having attacked a so-called “de-escalation zone” in southwestern Syria, Bashar al-Assad put the United States in a very difficult position. It is not only about their credibility, but also about the arguments prepared before Helsinki summit.
As a result of the offensive of government forces on territories controlled by rebels in the provinces of Daraa, Quneiter and As-Suwayda, nearly 200 civilians have been killed while over 100,000 people have fled, escaping the raids and upcoming branches of the regime. Such is the strategy of al-Assad who aimed to liquidate yet another rebel enclave in Syria, following the offensive in eastern Ghouta. Similarly, the attack was carried out with substantial support from the Russian aviation and mercenaries from the Wagner Company. But the fate of this battle is equally important for the Kremlin.
The Syrian regime and its Russian ally broke provisions of the agreement concluded in July 2017. Russia, the USA and Jordan jointly agreed to set up a so-called de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria. It was supposed to be the first such zone in Syria; after all, more of them were created and the idea of establishing zones was strongly advocated by Moscow. Such behind-the-scene information was published on the occasion of the meeting between Putin and Trump at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. It seems that the next meeting between both leaders, held in full political format on July 16 in Helsinki, will seal the fate of the agreement concluded a year before; similarly with the fate of the rebels as the Americans announced that they would not provide them with any military support in the face of the regime’s offensive.
So if the Russians enter the operation on June 23, which will mean that Putin decided to risk his neck for the case. He does not want to wait for a meeting with Trump to negotiate some issues in southern Syria. Quite the contrary; he has intention to close the case until the Helsinki summit and, at the same time, to break the resistance of the rebels and to deploy Russian forces on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. In this way, he would have strong arguments that could potentially be used during his meeting with Trump. The Trump administration is already playing a losing game as it has decided to withdraw from its support to rebels from the moderate Free Syrian Army. It may lose even more if Trump officially accepts such a solution during talks with Putin. Nonetheless, Moscow may overplay in Syria as fights in the south of the country increase the risk of tragic and bloody events that could even torpedo the Helsinki summit. Such a state of affairs may be first and foremost advocated by Iran whose authorities are suspicious about any attempts to negotiate or to cooperate between Moscow and Washington in Syria. The upcoming summit between Putin and Trump may be also troublesome for America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.
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