Syria: Can Russia & US Broker a new Cease-Fire?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Stars and Stripes reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may be very near a new US-Russian deal on Syria.

The key elements are reported to be:

1. Syrian Air Force stops bombing cities, including Aleppo and Homs

2. Humanitarian aid allowed to reach millions of civilians

3. Russia will also stop its bombing campaign on all groups except Daesh (ISIS, ISIL)

4. Once these steps have been taken, the US will join Russia in bombing positions of the Army of Syrian Conquest (Jabhat al-Nusra), whose leader is loyal to al-Qaeda

Although skeptics were scathing about this plan, it appears as I write that it may be announced imminently.

This is Lavrov’s own take at a news conference in Tokyo, from the Russian Foreign Ministry web site:

Question: How do you assess the current situation in Syria? How much longer can the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation in Syria last?

Sergey Lavrov: The question is not how long the operation may last. We are fighting against terrorism, working to create a truly universal antiterrorism front, as President Putin proposed at last year’s session of the UN General Assembly.

For several weeks now, in conjunction with the United States, as two co-chairs of the ISSG, as two countries that are effectively engaging terrorist targets in Syria, we have been conducting intensive consultations to develop a single plan of action based on the coordination of antiterrorist efforts.

This was the focus of my meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on August 26 in Geneva, as well as of our numerous telephone conversations. This issue began to be addressed in a substantive way after Mr Kerry visited Moscow on July 15 and was received by President Putin.

Daily and weekly contacts between the Russian and US militaries and special services continue in order to develop such a plan. We expect this work to be finished in the near future. Practically all components of this task are already clear.

Mutual understanding has been reached on most issues. The most important thing, however, is that none of our agreements with the Americans on practical actions and the coordination of operations against terrorists and the coordination of Aerospace Forces operations with the USAF and the US-led coalition will be implemented unless our US partners fulfill the promise they made a long time ago to separate opposition groups working with the United States from terrorists, primarily Jabhat al-Nusra.

Many groups, which the Americans deem to be acceptable for negotiations, have effectively teamed up with Jabhat al-Nusra (or whatever it is called now). Jabhat al-Nusra is using them to avoid being attacked.

This situation cannot go on forever. To reiterate, the resolution of this major problem is crucial for the implementation of plans for an antiterrorist operation that have already been largely coordinated between us and the Americans.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website in English 0800 gmt 3 Sep 16″

From the beginning, Russian intervention in Syria has been more about defeating the Nusra Front than about destroying Daesh, though Moscow wants to end both. Daesh hasn’t been a mortal threat to Damascus and opportunistically for the most part avoids fighting the Syrian Arab Army. The Nusra Front led the other fundamentalist militias into a conquest of Idlib Province, from which it could threaten the key port of Latakia and the Alawite population there. Had Nusra and its allies taken Latakia they could have cut Damascus off from resupply and could have ethnically cleansed the 2 million Alawites there, who are the backbone of the regime. Game over. So Russia came in to destroy Nusra (which is linked through al-Qaeda to Chechen and Central Asian terrorist groups that anyway threaten Moscow).

And Russia is making no deal that holds Nusra/ al-Qaeda harmless. It has to be destroyed, from Moscow’s point of view, or the other negotiations and arrangements would just prolong the struggle.

Turkey’s intervention on the side of the fundamentalist militias probably worries Russia and may help convince Moscow to try to freeze positions before, as a side effect, the Nusra Front can gather strength.

The US in Syria, or at least the CIA, seems to be soft on al-Qaeda, probably because of a realization that the other fundamentalist militias don’t amount to much without it.

For its part, apparently the Pentagon is grumpy about having to work with Russia at all and doesn’t trust it, feeling that Moscow used the last cease fire to hit US-backed rebels southwest of Aleppo in an attempt to cut off and starve out rebel-held East Aleppo. (If the Syrian regime could have taken back all of Aleppo, it would have been well on the way to simply winning outright).

Those policy figures who have as a priority the overthrow of al-Assad and are willing to wink at the prominent role of an al-Qaeda-lined group on the side of the fundamentalist rebels objected on two grounds. 1) the plan would not lead to regime change and 2) because for the US to cooperate with Russia and to target the Army of Syrian Conquest would alienate the remnants of the Free Syrian Army from the US.

Personally I think that if the relative success of last spring’s ceasefire could be replicated and civilians could get some relief, it would be well worth it. If the FSA doesn’t want to get bombed they should move away from al-Qaeda elements. And if they don’t like the US bombing al-Qaeda-linked groups, then they aren’t suitable allies to begin with.

The main thing is to convince the Russians that they and al-Assad can’t win outright and so ultimately some accommodation is going to have to be made with the Sunni Arab rural areas. On the other hand, the plan of the Gulf & the CIA to put the rural Sunni Arab fundamentalists in charge of the Christians, Alawites, Druze, Kurds and urban Sunni leftists is guaranteed to make the half of Syrians still not homeless into a new wave of refugees.

Better a ceasefire.


Related video:

Press TV: “Russia, US could reach cooperation deal on Syria”

18 Responses

  1. I wouldn’t have much faith in it. The condition of the Syrian victims of this mess is not the top US priority nor the Russian one either for that matter. That is largely window dressing. The same basic positions persist. There is a face off, transparently expressed in Lavrov’s statement:

    The most important thing, however, is that none of our agreements with the Americans on practical actions and the coordination of operations against terrorists and the coordination of Aerospace Forces operations with the USAF and the US-led coalition will be implemented unless our US partners fulfil the promise they made a long time ago to separate opposition groups working with the United States from terrorists, primarily Jabhat al-Nusra.

    Nothing could be more clear. Then again, as the Dr Cole writes …the Pentagon is grumpy about having to work with Russia at all and doesn’t trust it . Taking that to be so absolutely confirms the importance of priorities other than the condition of the Syrians.

  2. Any ceasefire at this point is a bad idea, as past ceasefires have only strengthened the terrorists. Assad/Putin should be given the green light to retake Aleppo at any cost. War is hard. Prolonging the inevitable is only making it harder.

  3. ceasefires can’t be ceasefires if all parties of warfare are not at the table. furthermore, a ceasefire where imperial powers are still bombing in the region is not a ceasefire.

    is isis a party to the ceasefire? which syrian military factions might be party to the ceasefire?

    you know what a ceasefire is? a ceasefire is for us to vacate the region and stop dropping bombs within syria. until we do that, talk of ceasefire is just bullshit.

  4. how have our imperial wars worked out on a humanitarian level?
    central america?
    we have no credibility. we are not in this business for humanitarian reasons.
    ceasefires and such talk are a farce. aint nothing happening until the american sheeple wake up. they didn’t like their sons getting killed in korea…they sort of woke up. they didn’t like their sons getting killed in vietnam they sort of woke up. they didn’t like their sons getting maimed in iraq, they sort of woke up.
    aint no american kids getting killed in syria. aint no ceasefire.

    • I am trying to find the argument in this comment, but I cannot make any sense of it. After all, there are no American troops in Syria, and nobody plans to send any.

      • No combat troops, but several hundred Special Forces ‘advisors’ working with the Kurds, and an unknown number of CIA operatives dallying with the anti-Assad forces. In previous conflicts, the sending of ‘advisors’ has turned out to be the thin edge of the wedge.

      • “………there are no American troops in Syria, and nobody plans to send any.”

        This is incorrect.

        President Obama has deployed 250 U.S. Special Forces troops to Syria and they are currently allied with Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.

        Additionally, there are American “volunteers” that have been fighting with Kurdish units in Syria. Levi Shirley of Denver was recently killed in action in such a role.

        Here are some links:

        link to

        link to

        link to

        link to

      • the argument is that we are bombing 6 countries today and that there are absolutely no plans to cease. talk of a “ceasefire” is nonsense.

        ok. stick with me and i will see if i can sort it out for you, the truth is complicated and the propaganda is multi layered. many so called progressives are struggling to make sense of the situation. they have been bamboozled by their own political and intellectual leaders. they have been betrayed by a trojan horse, president obama. They have been distracted by a red herring, the candidacy of the clown even as the trojan horse rapes and pillages their homes.

        north korea was our enemy and we ultimately made a ceasefire with them. the north vietnamese were our enemy and we ultimately made a ceasefire with them. today our enemy is not recognized as a nation or an entity capable of negotiations. thus we can not discuss a “ceasefire”.

        in the case of north korea and vietnam there was a large price to our warfare in terms of american deaths. In the case of Iraq there was less of a price but even so, it awoke the american public enough to ultimately reject chicken hawk bush implicitly by electing an antiwar candidate as his successor. this candidate went on to win a nobel peace prize as the american president all the while refining and expanding american warfare. in his style of warfare only a handful of americans get killed. there are no boots on the ground. but make no mistake, we are at war. we are dropping bombs all over the place including syria. it is just that americans do not know or care because there are no american body bags.

        we have no intention of ceasing our bombing missions in syria. this post by professor cole discusses some sort of “ceasefire” that the pro war 2004 candidate of the liberal party is working out with russia. we are not bombing russia and russia is not bombing us. we are both bombing various groups in syria. if this proposed “ceasefire” were to in fact occur, both russian and american warplanes would still be bombing people and things in syria. so it is not in fact a “ceasefire”.

        the term “ceasefire” here is a typically upside down orwellian term. the inverse of the given term is once again the truth. we and the russians are not working on a “ceasefire” but rather a continued fire agreement.

        do you follow?

  5. The only useful path is agreement between the US, Russia, and Iran on the end result, and agreement with Turkey and Syria on the means. But no agreement is possible because the US has no beneficial interest or plan in Syria just as it had no plan for Iraq. The goal of the US government is solely to make trouble, using extremists to cause disruption near Israel and obstruct Russia and Iran in their spheres of influence.

    The US does not consider results other than disruption, nor means other than force, and this prevents any humane agreement in the ME. The inevitable US failure in Iraq to establish a democracy with minority rights led to ISIS, and the US has even worse plans in Syria, with no likelihood of minority rights under the Sunni majority. Democracy and peace among factions is cultivated by preparing the soil, not by choosing sides randomly and killing everyone who disagrees. The inability to arrange talks or even find moderates is the direct result of US militarist intervention instead of foreign aid, education, and diplomacy.

    This is because most US politicians are bribed by Israel and KSA and the MIC; they are traitors against the US and war criminals, by choice and by personality. They are infantile bullies propelled upward in an unregulated economy by their lack of ethics. The US cannot plan or agree to a plan to benefit humanity until it reforms its corrupt government. It cannot do that because mass media and elections are already controlled by economic power. The only constructive role for the US is its containment by others.

      • Well, such a demand is a very specific step, rather than a goal. And one doesn’t reach a stable state by supporting fundamentalist loonies against a relatively stable government. No, I think you’re quoting the rationale, not the goal. If that is the goal, the US has no idea how to get there. If it does, why keep it such a secret? Secret benevolence is always a false hypothesis in national policy.

        And why would we not have worked with Assad on moving toward majority rule over time? Surely he sees the that as the future, perhaps in ten or twenty years. Numerous incentives could have been applied.

        No, the US keeps its policies secret because they are acceptable to no one but the Israelis and Saudis and MIC. And its announced plans never worked because the secret plans did. And those benefit no one in the US but the oligarchy.

        • anon….

          speak the truth to the sheeple!
          it is a thankless and tiring task.
          a futile task even.
          but like a mouse in a glue trap, struggle we must against all odds.
          we always have hope.
          and we within the empire are better off than those poor souls locked in its gun sights.

          it sure would be nice to get our hands on some of that pentagon $ though.

        • We have perhaps arrived at a stage in the evolution of US foreign policy mapped in Emmanuel Todd’s 2003 book ‘After the Empire’ (Après l’Empire) in which he describes the likely solution for the US’ economic dependence as A global theatre of dramatised militarism designed to keep the US, at least symbolically, at the centre of the world. Page 21 of the introduction which can be found on Amazon ‘look inside’ link to outlines three stages we can recognise. Much has changed since 2003 but Emmanuel Todd’s perspective is still instructive.

      • True, but one would hope that the USA , in its wisdom, would set itself realistic goals. As it stands, that goal is internally contradictory. Achieving one part precludes achieving the other. In such circumstances, trying to achieve both may mean you achieve neither.

        • the goal is achieved. that is the point of what anon is saying. chaos is the goal, NOT regional stability and democracy. we are the four horsemen of the apocalypse. that is our mission. mission accomplished.

  6. I gotta think that an outright win by the Russians and al-Assad is far preferable to any empowerment of ‘the rural Sunni Arab fundamentalists’, whether they are currently known as takfiris, salafis, jihadis, FSA, al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, or whatever their most recent re-branding.

    The best contribution that the US could make to the situation is to insist that its kissing cousins in the Saudi monarchy stop exporting and subsidizing violent religious proselytization.

  7. Yup. Saudis and Qatais are the problem. The story ends or begins there. That’s the dilemma.

  8. Would love to hear any analysis of Russia’s interest in a warm water port at Latakia and to what extent that plays into Russia’s Syria policy.

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