Merkel Ally Says Russia Has Gained Upper Hand in Syria Region

  • Islamic State strengthened by Putin's actions, Roettgen says
  • Germany's chief foreign-affairs lawmaker skeptical on Russia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior foreign-policy lawmaker said Russia has gained the upper hand in Syria’s civil war and expressed skepticism that a cease-fire will take hold.

“Russia, by the use of armed force, has significantly, fundamentally improved its political and diplomatic position,” Norbert Roettgen, who heads the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told a panel on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference. “Russia has gained the upper hand in the region and this is, by historical measures, a novelty.”

Russia’s airstrikes, aimed at opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have also strengthened Islamic State militants, said Roettgen, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. This is paradoxical since Russia and the U.S.-led coalition view the group as a common enemy, he said.

Syria’s five-year civil war entered a new phase last year when Russia joined the conflict on the side of Assad, whose control had progressively slipped to rebels and terrorist groups. Five months into the Russian air campaign, Syria’s government, backed by Iranian and Hezbollah troops, is retaking territory and supply routes held by the opposition. All major outside powers in Syria’s five-year-old conflict, including the U.S., Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, on Friday backed a truce that’s set to start on Friday.

Roettgen said he has “skepticism with regard to what we can expect from Russia in the days and weeks ahead.”

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