The cease-fire agreement in Syria has collapsed, and tensions are rising over the matter between the United States and Russia, as had been feared. The United Nations can do nothing about the situation, and Syrians are going through an increasingly severe ordeal that has forced them to flee their hometowns in poverty. The country's humanitarian crisis is deepening.
The cease-fire went into force in mid-September through mediation by the United States and Russia. However, combat continued even after that. Despite the ceasefire deal breakdown, Washington and Moscow continued their consultations on the issue, even eyeing the possibility of cooperating with each other in efforts to attack the Islamic State militant group.
The United States recently announced that consultations with Russia have been suspended. A U.S. government spokesperson accused Russia and Syrian government forces of attacking a hospital and other places in Aleppo, northern Syria, and even using a bunker-busting bomb, and blamed Russia for the collapse of the cease-fire.
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed disappointment at the U.S. move. President Vladimir Putin has issued a presidential decree to suspend its disposal of surplus plutonium, which has been generated as a result of arms reductions by the United States and Russia. In other words, worsening relations between the two countries are feared to affect various fields including nuclear arms reductions.
However, if the issue of the cease-fire in Syria were to be linked to other issues, it would only make bilateral ties even worse. Russia, which has been slapped with economic sanctions by Western countries over the Ukrainian crisis, is apparently trying to take every opportunity to shake up Western countries, but must not use the humanitarian crisis as a bargaining chip.
The United States is also apparently critical of Russian forces for serving as a shield for the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad and blocking offensives by anti-government forces.
However, the Middle East, including Syria, had been under the strong influence of the United States since the 1990s. The United States could have blocked Russia from deploying troops to Syria. Even though the United States had given tacit approval of Russia's deployment of troops to Syria, Washington is now criticizing Russia's military campaign in Syria. The U.S. government of President Barack Obama deserves criticism that it was too optimistic about the outlook for the Syrian situation.
The United States and Russia should place top priority on settling the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Washington and Moscow have no choice but to continue dialogue to that end. Both countries should fulfill their responsibility to put an end to the Syrian civil war that has lasted for over five years, ensure the safe return of refugees, who are believed to total 12 million both in the country and overseas, to their hometowns and eventually resolve the refugee crisis in Europe.
Investigations conducted by the United Nations and other organizations in 2013 and 2016 have revealed that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in warfare. These troops must not use highly lethal barrel bombs or cluster bombs to attack citizens. Russia should also ensure the transparency of its operations in Syria.
Russia is taking an aggressive attitude toward the Syrian crisis, apparently knowing that President Obama, whose term is nearing an end, cannot take resolute action. Washington's response to the situation has been lukewarm. The Obama administration should take strong leadership to step up Washington's cooperation with other Western countries in creating a framework in which these countries can join hands with Russia in putting an end to the Syrian civil war.