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United States Issues Warning to Russia Over Syria Policy

Washington seeks to send a message to Moscow amid standoffs between U.S. and Russian soldiers.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Syrians gather their belongings, as they prepare to flee after Russian airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Ariha in Syria's Idlib province on Jan. 30.
Syrians gather their belongings, as they prepare to flee after Russian airstrikes on the rebel-held town of Ariha in Syria's Idlib province on Jan. 30. AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. issues a warning to Russia amid rising tensions in Syria, the WHO calls for funds to combat the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, and White House advisor Jared Kushner presents Trump’s Middle East peace plan to the U.N. Security Council.

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U.S. Censures Russia Over Idlib Campaign

The United States has warned Russia over its policy in Syria, where U.S. officials say Russian forces are violating the terms of a cease-fire agreement and posing a challenge to U.S. troops in the region. France, Britain, and the United States have called for the U.N. Security Council to meet today about the situation in Idlib province, where Russian-backed Syrian government forces are engaged in a campaign to take back the area—the country’s last rebel stronghold.

Russia has filled the vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal from the area: There are no U.S. troops on the ground in Idlib, in Syria’s northwest. The increasing violence there has raised tensions between Russia and Turkey, which backs some rebel groups. The Syrian military offensive comes despite several attempts at a cease-fire, including one brokered by Russia and Turkey last month. Turkey fears an influx of refugees as hundreds of thousands of Syrians head for the Turkish border.

Tense standoffs. The warning comes as Russian military contractors have engaged in standoffs with U.S. troops in northeast Syria, increasing tensions and concerns that the encounters could escalate, the Wall Street Journal reports. “These are not daily occurrences, but they have been increasing number, and thus it is troubling,” James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy for Syria engagement said Wednesday.

What We’re Following Today

WHO asks for funds to fight new coronavirus. The chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for $675 million to help countries address the outbreak of the new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. The WHO, which will convene hundreds of experts in Geneva next week, hopes to speed up research into drugs and a vaccine to fight the virus.

On Wednesday, China recorded 73 new deaths—the biggest jump since the outbreak began—bringing the total to 563. Almost all of the new fatalities were in Hubei province, which remains under mass quarantine. Japan has the largest number of confirmed cases outside China—33—and Senior Japanese officials are already warning that the outbreak could disrupt the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Meanwhile, misinformation and conspiracy theories about the Wuhan virus are still spreading online, testing the major social media companies in the United States, Justin Ling writes for FP.

Kushner briefs U.N. on Middle East plan. Jared Kushner, senior White House advisor and U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, appears before the U.N. Security Council today to present the Middle East peace plan unveiled at the White House last week. In New York, Kushner will hear the positions of the other council members. The European Union rejected parts of the plan on Tuesday, particularly the final borders of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem. Kushner’s appearance comes just days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to visit the United Nations and express his opposition to the plan.

Plane crashes off runway in Istanbul. A plane flying into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport left the runway after landing amid heavy winds late on Wednesday, breaking into three pieces. The accident killed three and injured 179 of the 183 people on board. The Pegasus Airlines plane was a Boeing 737, adding to the number of deadly accidents involving Boeing jets over the last year. (The company posted its first annual loss in more than two decades last week.) After the crash, flights were diverted to another Istanbul airport, with flag carrier Turkish Airlines cancelling flights to and from Sabiha Gokcen.

Keep an Eye On

U.S. career diplomats’ job security. Increasingly, the ambassadors appointed by Trump to run U.S. embassies abroad are pushing out their deputy chiefs of mission in unusually high numbers, officials say. The deputies are often career diplomats, again raising questions for the State Department about alleged mismanagement by political donors-turned-ambassadors, FP’s Robbie Gramer reports.

Tensions in Cyprus. In an interview with the Guardian, Mustafa Akinci, the president of Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus, said that the divided island could face permanent partition if Greek and Turkish Cypriots can’t agree on an “equitable” federal solution. The Republic of Cyprus belongs to the EU while the Turkish-controlled government in the north is recognized only by Ankara. As he met his Greek Cypriot counterpart in the U.N.-controlled buffer zone, Akinci argued that the solution is reunification under a federal “roof.” Without such a compromise, he warned that the north would grow increasingly dependent on Turkey and could end up as a de facto Turkish province.

Brazil’s new indigenous affairs minister. Brazil’s government is drawing criticism after it appointed a former Christian missionary, Ricardo Lopes Dias, to run its indigenous affairs agency on Wednesday. Officials within the agency have protested, saying that Dias, who previously evangelized in remote communities, could cause “irreparable damage” to isolated groups in Brazil’s Amazon region.

Future EU member states. France has welcomed proposed changes to the European Union’s accession process months after President Emmanuel Macron blocked the beginning of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. The proposals have raised hope among four other Balkan countries, which the EU hopes to eventually admit to the bloc.

Odds and Ends

A British-led team of scientists is planning a five-week diving expedition into a “Midnight Zone” in the Indian Ocean, the Associated Press reports. Working with the governments of the Seychelles and the Maldives, they plan to assess deep-sea wildlife and the effects of climate change. To go below 1,000 meters, the scientists will use one of the most advanced submarines in the world, the “Limiting Factor.”

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson