Reports circulated throughout the evening of yesterday Tuesday 13th December 2016 of a supposed agreement between the Russian military and Turkish military intelligence to evacuate the remaining Jihadi fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo.
I have learnt through long experience to doubt the existence of any agreement the Russians are supposed to have entered into until they announce it.
In the event the hours passed and no confirmation of the existence of such an agreement came from Moscow or Damascus though in comments to the UN Security Council Russia’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin did appear to refer to it indirectly.
Instead there was a temporary draw down in fighting in the evening of yesterday, with the Syrian government’s green buses appearing in eastern Aleppo this morning, apparently in order to take the Jihadis away. None however came, Russian and Syrian reports say the Jihadis fired at the buses, and the fighting has resumed in earnest.
The Russian military’s Reconciliation Centre at Khmeimim air base in Syria is now saying that the Syrian military will continue its offensive until all the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo are either dead or captured or give up.
Piecing things together, it seems unlikely that there was any formal agreement between the Russians and the Turks. However the Russian and Turkish militaries have been in contact with each other since September, and discussions between them about the situation in Aleppo have been underway since at least the first week of November.
it seems that yesterday evening the Turkish military promised the Russians that if there was a draw down in the fighting they would arrange for the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo to leave Aleppo this morning.
The Russians appear to have been skeptical, which is why they failed to make a formal announcement yesterday, and as things turned out they were right not to do so.
The alternative theory, which is being promoted by the Western media today, is that the Syrian government and the Shiite militias in Aleppo objected to the agreement, about which they were supposedly not consulted, and it was this that led to the agreement breaking down this morning.
However the fact that there was indeed a draw down in the fighting last night, and that the green buses appeared this morning, shows that this claim is wrong.
This episode illustrates a recurring problem of the Syrian war. Though countries like the US and Turkey from time to time purport to enter into agreements with the Russians on behalf of their Jihadi proxies in Syria, their Jihadi proxies then invariably fail to honour them.
The Jihadis refused to withdraw as the Turks promised for two likely reasons:
1. Though it is difficult to discuss the terms of an ‘agreement’ that was never in fact reached, it seems that not all the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo were to be allowed to leave. The Russians appear to have insisted that the ringleaders and those who carried out the most egregious crimes would not be allowed to leave but would instead be arrested so that they can be put on trial by the Syrian authorities.
The Russians have a sophisticated intelligence operation in Aleppo, and by now they undoubtedly know who these people are, and everything about them right down to their aliases. Indeed it is likely they have provided Turkish intelligence with a list of these people over the course of the discussions.
These people are of course the same people who are the local Al-Qaeda commanders in eastern Aleppo. Since the Russian demand gives them no incentive to allow the other Jihadis to leave, and since they are in a position of authority over the other Jihadis, the Russian demand ensured that they would not allow the other Jihadis to do so.
2. It is doubtful the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo ever actually intended to leave. Not only are some of them fanatical fighters, sworn to die rather than leave, but their whole strategy is to manipulate the diplomatic process to secure for themselves a ceasefire, which will enable them to stay.
The Russians have repeatedly complained about this, and about the US’s collusion in assisting the Jihadis with this strategy, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov did so again this morning
“Every time we agree on something, the Americans step back from the agreements. It happened in September, then in December. We are told: ‘Russia proposes to agree on humanitarian corridors so that the militants will leave, but you should stop fighting first, then, in some days, it will be possible to create such corridors.
No one in Iraq, Libya, or Yemen demands a ceasefire, or a week or two of complete ‘silence,’ before negotiations. But in Syria they call for it.”
The Al-Qaeda leadership in eastern Aleppo seems to have persisted with this strategy yesterday by trying to use the draw down in the fighting which resulted from the Turkish offer in order to hold out for a ceasefire.
That the Western powers are also still pursuing this strategy is shown by what happened at the UN Security Council yesterday.
With hindsight it now looks as if yesterday’s UN Security Council debate – convened at France’s request – was timed to coincide with the Turkish promise, and was held in order to pressure Russia into agreeing to convert yesterday’s draw down in the fighting into a ceasefire, with yesterday’s atrocity propaganda intended to embarrass the Russians into agreeing to it.
In the event the Russians have made it crystal clear this morning that they are not prepared to agree to a ceasefire, and there is in fact no ceasefire in place. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has also rejected the atrocity propaganda, pointing out that as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted two days ago, it is unverified
“I receive information from independent humanitarian organisations firsthand…. No one has confirmed claims about atrocities or kidnappings.”
In summary, last night’s Turkish offer – almost certainly instigated by Turkish President Erdogan, who is coming under pressure from the Islamist part of his political base to do something to help the Jihadis in Aleppo – has bought the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo a few more hours.
It has not however gained them the ceasefire they wanted, and it is most unlikely there will be any more interruptions in the fighting now.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is saying he expects the situation in eastern Aleppo to be “resolved” within the next 2 or 3 days, and his words suggest that he expects the issue to be resolved by fighting.