By Ollie Richardson
On February 26th, a partial ceasefire had been agreed between Russia and the US in Syria. The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2268. As a result of the “cessation of hostilities” agreement, Russia was able to help the Syrian Army liberate Palmyra city from ISIS. The level of violence in general had dropped, but the “moderate” rebels still fired shells from East Aleppo towards West (government-controlled). Thus, the ceasefire deteriorated rapidly, and by May, 2016 – Russia and the US agreed on an extension of the “cessation of hostilities” in Aleppo.
This was perceived by many as the US’ defeat of Russia in Syria, because Kerry made it clear to Lavrov that any attempts to hurt the “moderates” would only incite the US to up the ante and send yet more arms to them. Russia’s plan to separate the US-backed groups from al-Nusra would reach a dead-end, and thus something needed to be done to force the US to be more accommodating at the negotiating table. Russia would send 4 more squadrons to Syria, and would slowly bring the previously “withdrawn” jets back to Hmeymim. Putin didn’t stop here, however. He sent destroyers to the Caspian and the Mediterranean seas under the guise of a “military drill”, where “Kalibr” missiles were once again unleashed on terrorist positions. This time was different though – there was a focus on al-Nusra positions, instead of the now-depleted ISIS. Putin was still not done. Despite using the Iranian Hamadan airbase for many months prior, Russia publicly announced it had sent 4 Tu-22m3 long-range bombers to the airbase. The reasons for this were mainly logistical, but some saw it as a stop-gap fix whilst Russia was struggling to breathe in the Syrian fire.
The 5 day “drill” ended on August 30th, but it turned out that Putin was saving his best for last. Seemingly out of nowhere, under the banner of “fighting ISIS”, Turkey sent a grouping of tanks and ground troops/proxies across the Syrian border (with US air cover) with the aim of capturing the Syrian town of Jarablus. The actual reason for this incursion was to prevent the formation of Rojava – a Kurdish state inside Syria. This move was coordinated with not only the Russians in Hymemim, but also Bashar al-Assad himself, who surely knew that it was best to bite the bullet to save his country from partition.
Fast forward to today, and Turkey is closing in on Manbij, the Kurds are refusing to follow US orders and move across the Euphrates, and Russia is preparing its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov for action in September-October later this year. It seemed that Russia was chasing its tail by playing the US’ diplomatic game (after all, who else is there to negotiate with?), but in actuality it served to buy Russia time to organise what can be seen now regarding Turkey in Syria.
It would appear that Russia feels it has done enough to force the US to be less stubborn and “flush” not only the Kurds, but perhaps also some of the “moderate” rebels in Aleppo. On September 2nd 2016, Sergey Lavrov, in relation to Russia-US cooperation, was quoted as saying:
“Virtually all components of this task are already clear, an understanding has been reached on most issues.”
When Lavrov says “most issues”, he surely is talking about access to humanitarian aid, because the chances of Russia getting the Obama administration to budge are slim to none. This is evidenced by the fact that Washington and Moscow could not even agree over who killed ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani:
— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) August 30, 2016
With the horizon that is Syria’s future once again becoming hazy, Stalker Zone asked Senior Political Risk Analyst Elijah J. Magnier to comment on the current state of play in terms of the slow-paced chess-like battle of Aleppo – the main focus of Russia’s operations:
“Aleppo is important for Assad since the beginning of the war in Syria. It is the industrial city of Syria. Hundreds of industry were moved to Turkey or dismantled during the years of war.
Recently, following the Russian intervention, Aleppo become the centre of attention because it is the door of the partition of Syria. When the circle was imposed on Aleppo, Russia wanted to initiate a serious peace talk to freeze all fronts, in collaboration with the US, as Aleppo was encircled. Russia had the upper hand with Damascus and allies. Russia would have facilitated a humanitarian corridor and the UN would have been forced to collaborate and engage in humanitarian convoys; the US in a peace process to start a serious talk.
When Jihadists and rebels managed to break the circle again, it was a blow to the peace process and in harmony with all players, including the US, to see the war in Syria proceeding without visibility, at least until mid 2017 (New US President will be able to define his policy toward Syria in February-April 2017).
Russia is rushing against time to close the circle and impose a cease-fire. All other players are not in a hurry, and are opening new fronts (Hama). The new element is Turkey and its new position toward Assad and Russia. This serious radical change is changing also the dynamic on the ground, cornering Jihadists and rebels in Aleppo.”
It is no secret that Russia is losing patience with the US, as more and more civilians lose their lives while Washington and allies persistently push for partition. With Turkey now offering Russia support in terms of helping to isolate the “moderates” from the Jihadists and acting as a shield against partition, Russia can now try to finally implement a peace plan that is able to withstand the US’ deliberate attempts to “feed” hostilities with the aim of solidifying demarcation lines in Aleppo.
Of course, predictably, many self-proclaimed cyber experts will monotonously chant “Russia betrayed Syria” and “Putin is weak” when faced with the prospect of a long-lasting “cessation of hostilities” agreement with the US, however the foundations of such tirades of tedium consist of not only zero understanding of the fluidity of post-modern warfare, but also this idea that Russia should repeat what the US did in Iraq and think with its fists – or, phrasing it another way, to act and behave like the very enemy they are fighting against.
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