Russia warns Assad to stay in line over ceasefire

Russia warns Assad to stay in line over ceasefire
In the first public show of disagreement between Moscow and Damascus, Russia has warned Assad not to snub efforts to enforce a ceasefire
2 min read
19 February, 2016
Defiant statements by Assad about retaking all of Syria have unsettled Moscow [AFP]

Russia’s envoy to the UN has warned Bashar al Assad not to step out of line with his most senior ally after comments by Syrian president seemed to snub efforts to cease violent hostilities.

"I heard President Assad's remarks on television... Of course they do not chime with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is undertaking”, Vitaly Churkin told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper.

"Russia has invested very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically and now also militarily.. Therefore we would like Assad also to respond to this."

Churkin’s words come in response to an interview with AFP last week, in which Assad stubbornly vowed to retake all of the areas that his regime had lost.

The warning issued by the Russian diplomat is the first instance of a public disagreement between the two allies, who have kept in sync since increased cooperation last autumn. For Assad, such words will likely hold some sway, as his alliance with Russia has been crucial in allowing him to retain power. Since September, Russia has stepped up its support of the embattled president by launching airstrikes on what it claims are Islamic state group and other ‘terrorist’ targets.

Despite its continued bombardment of the country, Russia has been involved in efforts enforce a ceasefire between Assad’s forces and various opposition groups. Talks in Munich last week to put a hold on the violence received the backing of 17 nations, who agreed to work for a ceasfire, the lifting of sieges and a resumption of talks.

Russia, however, has come under criticism for not taking the ceasefire seriously, with loopholes in the agreement allowing for a continuation of its air campaign against what it says are Islamic State group and al-Nusra targets. This poses a particular problem, as Moscow has been accused of bombing other rebel groups as well as civilian targets since its air campaign began.

In his interview, Churkin warned that Syria was "already on the brink of falling apart", and stressed that it is important that it, “follows Russia's leadership in resolving this crisis”, if Assad’s regime is to, “have a chance to come out of it in a dignified way."

"If they in some way stray from this path -- and this is my personal opinion -- a very difficult situation could arise. Including for themselves," he continued.