US-Russia Syria Agreement: Squeeze on “Al-Nusra” Becomes Even Tighter

By Ollie Richardson

The following points are the key details of the deal agreed between the US and Russia over the Syrian Settlement after marathon talks in Geneva on September 9th between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov: 

  • The plan consists of 5 documents: improving cooperation, humanitarian aid, ensuring compliance with ceasefire, and facilitating the political process. 
  • Syrian Airforce must not conduct airstrikes in agreed areas where there are moderate opposition. 
  • If violence is reduced, US and Russia will develop a plan for joint airstrikes against al-Nusra. 
  • There will be 7 days of adherence to the Cessation of Hostilities in order to convince the opposition of Assad’s serious intentions. Opposition is also expected to adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities, which will start on 12th of September at sundown. 
  • If the ceasefire holds for 7 days, the US and Russia will establish a joint center to fight defined terrorists. 
  • There must be sustained and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid to besieged areas, including Aleppo. 
  • Both sides will withdraw from Castello Road in Aleppo, creating a demilitarized zone. 
  • Lavrov and Kerry agreed on opposition areas where only Russian jets will be permitted to execute airstrikes, not the Syrian Airforce. 
  • Delineation of al-Nusra and “moderates” will happen after 7 days of Cessation of Hostilities.

While many will see this ceasefire as deja vu, where al-Nusra will simply attack the Syrian Army and the ceasefire is in tatters, the difference on this occasion is that what is and what is not a “Moderate rebel” is more defined than before, albeit a bit unclear still. It is clear that in Aleppo there are 3 main categories of groups: Al-Qaeda, US-backed “rebels”, and loose groups who are able to craft their identity in such a way where they are neither “moderate” nor “Islamists”.

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Since ISIS is now a non-entity in both Syria and Iraq due to a major losses of territory, the US will have to create a new publicly-accepted reason to justify their presence in Syria – will this reason be Al-Nusra? Rupert Murdoch was working overtime to prepare the ground for Al-Nusra to become the good guys, but Turkey’s deal with Russia meant that the planned merger between Salafist groups and “moderate” groups like Nour al-Din al-Zenki collapsed – something which Takfiri cleric Muhaysni today confirmed:

The demilitarisation of Castello Road was surely a compromise between the US and Russia, as the US needs the road to supply its groups, and Russia and allies pre-deal had cut the road off. What is likely to happen is that after the 7 day period has ended, Russia and the US (reluctantly) will both start bombing Al-Nusra. Perhaps the bombing of Al-Nusra commanders on Thursday was a “test balloon” to examine the reaction to the simulacra of US bombing al-Qaeda. This deal can be thought of as a 1 week ceasefire in order to “delineate” the groups on the ground.

Maybe the US will have to swallow its pride as Russia and friends bomb the “moderates” that were not smart enough to abandon their love for Al-Qaeda. Despite all of this, one problem still remains: what is the definition of “al-Nusra”? Did the recent rebranding allow the US to manipulate this loophole? Or will Russia use groups like Ahrar al-Sham as a reference point. There is also the X-factor that is Turkey to consider when forecasting the results of this deal. Perhaps the meeting between Putin and Erdogan a few days prior was the main event, and the talks in Geneva are merely dotting the ‘i’.

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