9th Mar 2021

Ukraine, Nato rebuke Putin on Syria

  • Breedlove: 'These air defence capabilities are not about [IS], they're about something else' (Photo: German Marshall Fund)

The Ukrainian president, and a top Nato general, have accused Russia of trying to hoodwink the international community on Syria.

Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko told the UN assembly in New York on Tuesday (29 September) that Russia's proposal to join Western powers in a new anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition is a "cool story, but really hard to believe".

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  • EU leaders are to hold talks with Putin and Poroshenko in Paris on Friday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He noted that Russia has, for the past year and a half, "conducted an open and unprovoked aggression against my country".

He said Russia, in order to "mislead the world community … takes off the insignias of its military servicemen and the identification marks of its military equipment".

He also said it's fighting Ukraine by "financing terrorists and mercenaries, and [by] supplies of arms and military equipment to illegal armed groups".

"How can you urge an anti-terrorist coalition, if you inspire terrorism right in front of your door?", he asked.

Poroshenko spoke after Putin, on Monday, secured US agreement to join forces in Syria.

The US leader, Barack Obama, said it doesn’t mean an end to sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.

But their handshake has prompted concern the Syria initiative will lead to lowering of Western pressure.

The coalition project comes after Putin quietly deployed fighter jets and helicopters at a base in Latakia, on Syria's Mediterranean Sea coast.

He says the aircraft could join Western strikes on IS, in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s ground troops.

But for his part, Philip Breedlove, Nato's top military commander, believes the Latakia build-up has nothing to do with counter-terrorism.

He told a meeting of the German Marshall Fund, a US think tank, on Monday, that Russia is also installing high-tech air defences at the site.

"As we see the very capable air defence [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we're a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean", he said.

"These very sophisticated air defence capabilities are not about [IS], they're about something else … high on Mr. Putin's list in Syria is preserving the regime against those that are putting pressure on the regime".

A2/AD is jargon for "anti-access/area denial" - systems which deter Nato air or naval assets from entering a combat zone.

Breedlove said Russia already has A2/ADs in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions, depicting its Syria move as an expansion of Russian influence rather than a counter-IS scheme.

Meanwhile, Putin's idea that Assad, his main Middle East ally, should be kept in power to help defeat jihadists, is gaining traction in some EU capitals - notably Berlin.

But for his part, the EU Council president, Donald Tusk, told the UN on Tuesday the refugees coming to Europe are fleeing Assad as much as they’re fleeing IS.

"Today the circle of proponents of the idea that Bashar al-Assad should be part of Syria's transition is growing", he noted.

"Yet we cannot forget that millions of people have fled his horrific methods of trying to secure stability in Syria. During my trips to the region, I was told that Assad's victory would only lead to another exodus".

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