EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Tuesday warned against the risk of “hot war” between Russia and Turkey in the Middle East.
“We are always referring to Syria as a proxy war among regional actors. This risks to become something bigger than this. I’m not thinking of a cold war. No, we risk a hot war among different actors than the one we always think of. Not necessarily Russia and the United States, but Russia and Turkey, could be. And, as Europeans, we have a clear interest in trying to contain and scale down the tensions,” Mogherini said during a debate at the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mogherini’s comments came despite the United States and Russia announcing plans for a cessation of hostilities in Syria, excluding Islamic State and Nusra Front militants, that would take effect starting on Saturday.
Apologists for the Kremlin are struggling. The Russian regime’s dogged defence of the blood-drenched Syrian dictatorship, and its persecution of the Pussy Riot musicians for their stunt in Moscow’s main cathedral, display its nastiest hallmark: support for repression at home and abroad.
Mr Putin’s return to power has eclipsed the liberal-sounding talk of his predecessor as president, Dmitry Medvedev. Russia’s leader has in recent weeks signed laws that criminalise defamation, introduce £6,000 fines for participants in unauthorised demonstrations, require non-profit outfits financed by grants from abroad to label themselves as “foreign agents”, and create a new blacklist of “harmful” internet sites.
Now comes the prosecution of Pussy Riot, a bunch of feminist performance artists made famous by their imprisonment and show trial. Their “crime” was to record a brief mime show at the altar of the cathedral of Christ the Saviour. They then added anti-Putin “music” (featuring scatological and blasphemous slogans) to suggest that they had actually held a concert there.
Speaking during a visit to Afghanistan, Mr Cameron said: “I have a very clear message for president Assad. It is time for him to go.
“It is time for transition in the regime. If there isn’t transition it’s quite clear there’s going to be civil war.”
Syria’s opposition proclaimed “the beginning of the end” for Bashar al-Assad’s regime on Wednesday night after a bomb attack in the heart of Damascus killed three of the president’s closest lieutenants, including his powerful brother-in-law.
Striking the very core of Mr Assad’s defence apparatus, the bomb exploded inside the headquarters of Syria’s national security council as officials convened a meeting of the ‘crisis cell’ set up to crush the 16-month uprising against the president’s rule.
For weeks, Mr Assad’s power had been visibly crumbling, weakened by a series of high-profile defections. But yesterday’s attack amounted to an evisceration of his inner sanctum, a solitary strike more devastating than any other rebel act during the past 16 months of blood-letting.
Today’s murder of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law and the Syrian Defence Minister in what appears to have been a suicide bomb attack is a serious blow for the Syrian regime and its ability to terrorise anti-regime opponents into submission.
Both Assef Shawkat, Assad’s brother-in-law and one of the regime’s most feared intelligence operatives, and General Dawoud Rajha, the Defence Minister, have played a critical role in masterminding the brutal campaign to suppress anti-government protests during the past year. Shawkat, in particular, has a long history of involvement in running the regime’s terrorist infrastructure, having been implicated in the failed plot in 1986 to smuggle a bomb on board an Israeli El Al airliner at Heathrow airport.
Apart from their expertise in killing protesters. both these men were responsible for liaising with Moscow, which has provided invaluable support in helping the Assad regime to survive the current wave of anti-government protests. Now that they have been removed from the scene questions will inevitably arise about the regime’s ability to maintain its ruthless repression of the opposition, and also whether it can maintain its current cosy relationship with Russia.
Nawaf Fares, a former regime hardliner and security chief who was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, spoke out in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Telegraph yesterday – his first since announcing his dramatic decision to quit last week. As the first senior diplomat to abandon the government, it is thought his departure may pave the way for others to follow, leaving President Assad’s regime even more exposed.
Yesterday, in a wide-ranging interview conducted by telephone from Qatar, where he has now sought refuge, Mr Fares made a series of devastating claims against the Assad regime, which he said was determined to be “victorious” whatever the cost.
* Jihadi units that Mr Fares himself had helped Damascus send to fight US troops in neighbouring Iraq were involved in the string of deadly suicide bomb attacks in Syria
* The attacks were carried on the direct orders of the Assad regime, in the hope that it could blame them on the rebel movement
“It began at 4.30am when first shells landed. I was sleeping and I woke up the sounds of explosions,” said Abu Fares, a resident.
Power to the village had been cut the day before; all lights were out, mobile telephone batteries had drained and landline telecommunications were cut. There was no calling for help. Terrified, Abu Fares and the other residents stayed inside, crouching behind the most solid walls of their homes and praying they would not be hit.
“The shelling was too strong to go outside, we did not know what was happening there,” he said. “After some hours everything fell silent. I went outside of my house. There was destruction everywhere and bodies under the rubble. Most of the houses were damaged or destroyed.”
One of the video clips that emerged of Thursday morning’s terrible events showed a young man wailing over the body of an elderly grey-haired man wrapped in a blanket and lying in the street.
“Come on, Dad. For the sake of God, get up,” the man sobs. A boom is heard in the background. There was no way for the Daily Telegraph to verify the provenance of the video.
The resolution was sent to the council’s other 14 members ahead of a briefing on Wednesday by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on efforts to revive his peace plan, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Igor Pankin told reporters.
Russia’s move is the opening round in a potentially tense diplomatic battle at the Security Council that must decide the future of the UN observer mission in Syria by July 20.
Russia is the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has fiercely resisted international action against the Damascus government. The United States and European powers want sanctions against Assad over the conflict, in which activists say more than 17,000 people have died.
Pankin said the Russian resolution “is aimed at providing further support to the efforts of Kofi Annan and the implementation of his plan.”
The draft, obtained by AFP, proposes extending the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for another three months. The UNSMIS mandate ends on July 20.