The Kremlin has just issued a report of a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.
The Security Council is Russia’s key policy making body. Contrary to what its name might suggest its remit extends far beyond defence and security policy and covers every aspect of Russia’s political and socio-economic relations as well as foreign and defence policy. In some ways the Security Council resembles the Soviet Politburo, the body which in its formal role as the Defence Council, the Security Council has institutionally replaced.
This latest meeting of the Security Council is unusual in that as is clear from the list of attendees and the accompanying photograph only a small number of officials attended. Moreover the meeting did not take place at one of the Security Council’s standard locations: the Kremlin and the Presidential Residence at Novo Ogaryovo. The Kremlin report merely says that it took place in “the Moscow region”. That suggests a meeting convened hurriedly at a secret location.
As is standard practice the Kremlin has provided only the tersest summary of what the meeting discussed:
“The socioeconomic situation in Russia and Mr Putin’s scheduled upcoming international meetings were the main subjects of discussion.”
The “upcoming international meetings” clearly refers to Putin’s forthcoming meetings with President Erdogan of Turkey and with President Sargisyan of Armenia, who is coming to Moscow on 10th August 2016. The Russians have obviously invited Sargisyan to Moscow to brief him on their talks with Erdogan and to assure him that Armenia’s interests are not being sacrificed in light of the ongoing Russian – Turkish rapprochement.
It is a certainty that the “upcoming international meeting” that attracted by far the greater attention was however the one with Erdogan. However that is certainly not the whole story. The best indication of what the meeting discussed is provided by the short list of those attending: they were exclusively Russia’s foreign policy and defence chiefs (Foreign Minister Lavrov and Defence Minister Shoigu) and its security and intelligence chiefs (Security Council Secretary Patrushev, head of foreign intelligence Fradkov and head of the FSB Bortnikov). No civilian officials attended.
That all but confirms that the major topic of discussion was Syria and the fighting around Aleppo. The meeting was clearly convened so that the Russians could coordinate their positions before Erdogan’s visit and in order to agree steps in response to the rebel offensive in Aleppo. Fars is already reporting a major escalation of Russian bombing on rebel positions in Aleppo. The Security Council meeting was almost certainly convened to agree further measures to contain the rebel offensive in Aleppo. What those will be will become clear in the next few days or hours.