Syria overshadows Munich security meeting

Friday 19/02/2016
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura

MUNICH - “Today’s conflicts and crises are more danger­ous and severe than anything we have seen since the end of the Cold War,” Munich Security Confer­ence Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger said in the run-up to the meeting.

However, it was one particular crisis — the Syrian conflict — that dominated the 52nd Munich con­ference, as world powers worked to secure a ceasefire and Russian offi­cials spoke of a “new Cold War”.

In the end, senior officials agreed a vaguely worded “cessation of hostilities” to come into force and more humanitarian aid following a series of bilateral meetings against the backdrop of the conference but Russia did not commit to ending its air strikes.

Those attending the three-day meeting described a solemn at­mosphere that was overshadowed by the Syrian conflict and political wrangling between Russian and US officials.

It was unclear whether stalled Geneva peace talks would resume given Russia’s intensification of air strikes following the conference and scepticism on the part of the Syrian opposition towards Syrian President Bashar Assad’s desire for a political solution to the crisis.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond also expressed scepti­cism about the feasibility of a cease­fire, saying: “Frankly, it depends on what Russia wants. The fact on the ground is this… Over the last weeks Russia has been bombing the mod­erate opposition positions.”

Moscow has denied that its air strikes are specifically targeting Syr­ian opposition forces or civilians, framing its military intervention in the country as a fight against the Is­lamic State (ISIS).

“There is no evidence of our bombing civilians, even though everyone is accusing us of this. Rus­sia is not trying to achieve some secret goals in Syria. We are sim­ply trying to protect our national interests,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said during the conference.

Moscow came in for a storm of criticism from Western and Arab states during the meeting for its intervention in Syria, with Med­vedev acknowledging that strains between Russia and the West have pushed the world into a “new Cold War”.

“On an almost daily basis, we are being described the worst threat — be it to NATO as a whole, or to Eu­rope, America or other countries,” he said.

“Sometimes I wonder if this is 2016 or 1962.” “We’re living in a much more complicated world,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a response to Medvedev’s view: “The bipolar divisions of the Cold War were really simple compared to what we’re facing today.

“With the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the forces that were released in that period of time, with the sec­tarianism that has grown, with the mistakes that were made, frankly, in Iraq in the last decade, it has creat­ed an unleashing of forces that had been contained for some period of time.”

This unleashing of once-con­tained forces caused a humanitar­ian crisis in Syria and a refugee crisis everywhere else.

The ceasefire deal would, at least, see much-needed aid delivered to various besieged areas in Syria, in­cluding Deir ez-Zor, Madaya, Moua­dhimiyeh and Kafr Batna.

“Humanitarian access to these most urgent areas will be a first step towards full, sustained, and unim­peded access through the country,” a statement issued by the Interna­tional Syria Support Group said.

As for the refugee crisis, France re­jected a German-backed permanent quota system for distributing refu­gees across Europe, saying that Paris would take 30,000 of the 160,000 refugees European countries have agreed to divide among themselves but would not agree to accept more.

“We won’t take any more. France never said, ‘Come to France,’” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

Speaking at the end of the con­ference, Ischinger said: “When I opened this conference on (Febru­ary 12th), I said the picture is bleak. This conference has not led me to change my mind in any way.”