Ex-ambassador: No-fly zone in Syria would test Russia

Setting up a no-fly zone inside Syria could force Russia to show its true intentions in the country, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday.

“The most important reason I think this no-fly zone is needed is it would really test Russia,” said Bill Richardson, who is also the former governor of New Mexico. “Is Russia’s intent really just to help Assad and not do anything with ISIS? Is it just provincial arguments? Or are they ready to participate in a transition of a new government in Syria with perhaps Assad still playing some kind of role?"

Richardson was commenting during a panel discussion hosted by McBee Strategic about the future of NATO. He argued NATO could provide the resources to establish the area for those fleeing violence.

The Obama administration has opposed a no-fly zone in Syria in part because of the difficulties in enforcement. The United States and its allies would need to devote immense resources to ensure regime and Russian forces don’t bomb the area, they argue.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Kremlin claims its main goal in Syria is to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but U.S. officials say the strikes have mainly targeted opposition groups and civilians.

Officials have also questioned Russia’s commitment to a Syrian ceasefire, which is in a tenuous state since starting late last month.

Richardson argued that a no-fly zone would test Russia’s commitment.

“What I would do is see how this ceasefire works,” he said. “There’s varied reports. So far it’s holding somewhat.”

“We haven’t tested Russia there,” he added. “Would Russia be ready for a conflict with NATO? I don’t think so.”

One issue with getting NATO more involved in Syria is Turkey, a NATO ally, has been attacking Syrian Kurds, which the United States has cooperated with in the fight against ISIS.

“Establishing this zone would first require extensive diplomacy with Turkey to discontinue its assault on Syrian Kurds,” he said.

But NATO should be more involved in Syria, he argued, because the refugee crisis is threatening Europe.

“The failure of the coalition to manage the situation effectively on the ground in Syria continues to have negative consequences for our allies,” he said. “It’s a mistake, I believe, to dismiss a role for NATO in addressing the consequences of our previous problems in Syria. To date we’ve allowed unclear thinking to limit how we can respond to what’s happening there. So I see a role for NATO in the Syrian issue.”