Back on 2nd November 2016 I wrote a piece for The Duran in which I said that all diplomatic contacts with the US over Syria having completely failed, the Russians were trying to negotiate the surrender of eastern Aleppo with Turkey.
This is what I said:
“Having despaired of getting the US to separate Al-Qaeda/Jabhat Al-Nusra from the other Jihadis in Aleppo, and getting them to withdraw, it is likely the Russians are trying to agree the same thing with the Turks. Indeed [General] Gerasimov’s [Russia’s Chief of General Staff] comments today essentially say as much.”
Today there is confirmation from the Financial Times that such talks in Ankara are indeed underway. Here is what it reports:
“Syrian rebels are in secret talks with Russia to end the fighting in Aleppo, according to opposition figures, a development that shows how the US could become sidelined in some of the Middle East’s most pivotal conflicts.
Four opposition members from rebel-held northern Syria told the Financial Times that Turkey has been brokering talks in Ankara with Moscow, whose military intervention last year on the side of President Bashar al-Assad helped turn the five-year civil war in the regime’s favour. Russia is now backing regime efforts to recapture the rebel’s last urban stronghold in Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
“The Russians and Turks are talking without the US now. It [Washington] is completely shut out of these talks, and doesn’t even know what’s going on in Ankara,” said one opposition figure, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.”
Importantly the Russians are not denying the talks. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s formidable spokeswoman, responded to questions by the Financial Times about the talks as follows
“Washington isolated itself. We’ve been negotiating with the [Syrian] opposition in Turkey for years — it’s not news.”
The Financial Times misunderstands the negotiations which are underway. It quotes Charles Lister, a Syria expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington, as explaining Russia’s intentions in this way
“Russia is hedging its bets. It would prefer to make a deal with the opposition. If Aleppo were to fall, the Syrian regime would need so many troops to hold the city that its forces would be left thin elsewhere in the country — or dependent on Iranian help, which Moscow would prefer to avoid.”
This is certainly wrong. As The Duran has been reporting ever since September, the consistent Russian demand, and the key provision of the unsuccessful Kerry-Lavrov agreement of September, is that all the Jihadis fighters must quit eastern Aleppo, which must be surrendered to the government.
It should hardly need saying that Aleppo would be far more defensible without any Jihadi fighters there, rather than with Jihadi fighters owing allegiance to terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS still in control of some of the eastern districts of the city.
Charles Lister’s analysis is I am sorry to say just another example of the wishful thinking and failure to assess realities in Syria objectively which has beset Western understanding of the conflict in Syria since its start.
It is precisely because the Russian demand is for the Jihadis to quit eastern Aleppo entirely that the talks have according to the Financial Times made little progress. It seems that the Jihadis are still unwilling to take this step, which would mean the end of their plan for regime change in Syria.
Their recent defeat in Aleppo may however mean that even they will finally understand that they have no realistic choice, and it seems that behind the scenes the Turks are trying to get them to accept this as well.
My opinion however remains that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo are far too committed to their struggle to give up willingly, and that the eastern districts of the city will have to be liberated from their control by the sort of fighting we have seen there over the last few days.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.