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#################### Geoff Seidner
Russia’s intervention in Syria means military force will no longer end the bloody conflict there and a political solution must be found, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.
Ms Bishop criticised Russia for airstrikes targeting pro-Western rebels as well as the Islamic State terror group in a strategy that appears designed to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is near-collapse.
The growing scale and complexity of the Middle-East conflict is quickly becoming clear, with Iran sending hundreds of soldiers to Syria to recapture territory from anti-Assad rebel groups.
These are combat troops rather than advisers and they will be backed by Russian airstrikes.
The authoritative US Institute for the Study of War says this is more evidence of a closer alliance between Russia and Iran designed to save Assad rather than destroy Islamic State.
Ms Bishop told the ABC’s Insiders program yesterday Russia’s intervention had complicated the conflict and changed the dynamics quite significantly. Conceding Russia’s motivations “aren’t always transparent”, Ms Bishop, home after a week of high-level talks at the UN in New York, said Moscow’s actions speak louder than its rhetoric.
Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria last week and Ms Bishop has called for Iran to be involved in talks to end the war.
“Russia’s intervention has complicated the matter and changed the dynamics quite significantly,” she said.
Russia claims it is targeting IS but Ms Bishop said it remained to be seen what else it was doing.
“The path to peace is going to be complicated, but it’s even more necessary than ever before to stop the conflict, to stop the bloodshed, to prevent the displacement of millions of people and, of course, the deaths of hundreds of thousands since this conflict began in 2011,” Ms Bishop said. “So the focus must be on a political solution, because a military solution is now so complex and is not going to be the answer to stopping this bloody conflict.”
Because Russia was not co-ordinating its airstrikes with the US-led coalition, Ms Bishop said there was the “potential for miscalculation” although there were talks at the highest level to ensure this did not happen.
Ms Bishop wants to reinvigorate a similar process to the Geneva diplomatic forums of 2011-12.
“Countries including Egypt and Jordan are now starting to say there needs to be a transition phase from Assad, whereas previously the view was that any precondition to peace discussions had to be the removal of Assad,” she said.
Ms Bishop did not believe Assad would be around for the longer term but in the meantime his “heinous” regime would have to be accommodated in some way.
“The reality is, Assad is there,” she said. “We have to keep Syria intact. Someone has to be in control of the military. Someone has to be in control of Damascus, the capital. And so the transition would obviously go from Assad to another leader, but there’s no obvious takers for that role.”