Heiko Langner: "Negotiations between United State and Russia must be resumed immediately and without preconditions"

The relations between Russia and the United States have once again deteriorated because of the situation in Syria. Washington halted bilateral cooperation with Moscow on the Syrian issues, threatening Russia with new sanctions. But the Kremlin sees no reason to introduce American and European sanctions, because Russia is the only country that legitimately fights against terrorism on the territory of this Arab Republic. Commenting on reports about possible sanctions against Russia, German political scientist Heiko Langner called them "a manifestation of arrogant thinking" in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza. 

- What can you say about the statements made by chairman of the Bundestag Foreign Policy Committee, Norbert Rottgen, about possible introduction of new Western sanctions against Russia due to suspension of talks on Syria and the failure of ceasefire agreement?

- Demands to toughen sanctions are a manifestation of arrogant thinking in the categories of "punishment", which will never improve terrible humanitarian situation in Syria, and may even worsen it, because such actions won't allow to achieve much needed agreement between the US and Russia on the Syrian conflict. In order to make progress and end the war in Syria, these two world powers must cooperate with each other much more actively. However, Rottgen's statements should be taken seriously, because they reflect the ideas of an important group within the ruling coalition. In addition, there are similar discussions in other Western countries.

- Is it possible to blame only Russia in the failure of Syrian talks?

- Definitely not. Whoever attacked the UN humanitarian convoy near Aleppo, there is no doubt that they have committed a serious war crime. However, I still don't know any serious proofs of Russian responsibility for this crime. Moreover, I think it is much more likely that the attack on this convoy was carried out by the Syrian regime, since it corresponds to its interests. Besides, this regime has repeatedly demonstrated cruelty in warfare and attacked civilian targets and humanitarian facilities. Since it has military support of Russia, the Syrian regime sees itself in strategically advantageous position and wants to crush the armed opposition to dictate its terms during future negotiations. In order to determine those responsible for the attack on humanitarian convoy of the UN, it is necessary carry out an independent investigation at the international level. A truce and peace talks have also failed because the US have attacked Syrian government forces earlier. Of course, it is also a war crime. Perhaps there is some connection between the two events, and the attack on humanitarian convoy was an act of revenge of the Syrian regime. If the attack was carried out from the air, and most of the evidences show that this is true, the number of actors who could carry it out is pretty small. But we don't know who did it yet.

- What steps should be taken for the peace process to get another chance?

- The negotiations between the US and Russia should be resumed immediately and without preconditions, since there is no alternative to them. Both world powers must create protected humanitarian corridors as soon as possible to provide residents of surrounded eastern Aleppo with food and medicines necessary for the survival. It is also necessary to stop the armed opposition groups from using civilians as "human shields", which they do very often due to their more and more hopeless position. Russia must put pressure on Bashar Assad, the United State must put pressure on on the Gulf monarchies and Turkey. This way they can pave the way for direct negotiations between the sides of this conflict. 

- What sides of the conflict in Syria should participate in the negotiations?

- Politicians should look at things realistically if they want to achieve success. There are free corridors between various opposition groups, many rebel groups cooperate with each other in the fight against common enemy - the regime. This means that, for example, secularly-oriented 'Free Syrian Army' and its supporters cooperate with radical Islamist groups like 'Ahrar al-Sham' and, depending on the actual balance of forces on the battlefield, they can even cooperate with openly jihadist groups like 'Jabhat Fateh al-Sham', which was called 'Al-Nusra Front' until recently.

Similarly, a widespread understanding of the fight between the secular regime on the one hand and the Sunni-Islamist opposition on the other no longer reflects the reality of extremely complicated Syrian conflict. The Syrian regime has already formed an alliance with radical Shiite militants from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, as well as with Lebanese 'Hezbollah'. These groups already control large areas. It should also be added that despite its secular "facade", the regime has a clear sectarian-confessional nature. Key positions in the Syrian government and military apparatus are held by representatives of Alawite minority, which amounts to only 12% of the total population. This was one of the main causes of the uprising in 2011, when Sunni majority no longer wanted to endure oppression from minority dictatorship. By the way, Russia understands this, which is why Moscow clearly recognizes the necessity of inter-Syria reforms to create more inclusive government system. The one who really wants to end this war will have to negotiate with all relevant sides of the conflict, which are interested in its political resolution and peaceful transition. In the end, there must be a willingness to negotiate with criminals to achieve this. It is a bitter fact, but I can't another possibility. After five years of killing, there is almost no side that did not commit any crimes.


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