We have still very little information but the indications are that the talks Kerry held with Putin and Lavrov in Moscow have been a failure.
Here is how Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described them:
“Talks were continued, they were rather constructive, rather honest and detailed. However many questions remain connected with real cooperation during the operation in Syria. They discussed different cooperation formats, but the topic of direct cooperation between the military in combating terrorism in Syria was not mentioned, the exchange of information in this area is present, but still, unfortunately, we are not much closer to real cooperation in order to increase the effectiveness of efforts to combatting terrorism in Syria. As for Assad’s fate, Russia’s well-known position has not undergone any changes.”
TASS reports that when pressed to say whether there had been any progress in the talks at all, Peskov somewhat testily replied:
“I said everything I wanted on the issue. The main assessments will be made by [Russian Foreign] Minister [Sergey] Lavrov and [US] Secretary of State [John] Kerry.”
As for Kerry, TASS reports him describing the talks as “extremely frank and very serious.”
That sounds rather like the old diplomatic formula – “a free and frank exchange of views” – which was old diplomatic shorthand for a row.
In a further sign that the talks did not go well, the Kremlin’s website was saying yesterday that a full transcript would be provided shortly. Instead of that transcript what we have today is a brief transcript of Putin’s and Kerry’s introductory remarks to each other.
Kerry’s meeting with Putin is reported to have gone on well past midnight. It seems he came to Moscow with a detailed proposal but that the Russians were not happy with it.
We do not know the details of the proposals but it seems that the US offered to join with the Russians in a joint military campaign in Syria against Al Qaeda and Daesh. Prior to going to Moscow Kerry also let slip that some of what he called “subgroups” affiliated to Al Qaeda would be targeted as well. However in return the Russians were apparently expected to accept US leadership of the military campaign, cease bombing rebel groups in Syria aligned with the US, and agree to the eventual removal of President Assad.
If that is in outline what Kerry was proposing then it is not difficult to see why the Russians would reject it. Essentially what Kerry seems to have offered them was yet another plan to overthrow President Assad, this time with their assistance, in return for a place in a US led military coalition.
Assuming that that was the offer – and all the indications are that it was – then it provides a further example of the US’s inability to adjust to the reality of the Russia it is now dealing with. What the US offered Russia was essentially nothing more than a symbolic gesture in return for the sacrifice of Russia’s entire position in Syria. The days are long past when the Russians were prepared to sacrifice fundamental positions in return for symbolic gestures. It is the sort of offer a Gorbachev or a Yeltsin might have accepted. With Putin it stood no chance. It is perplexing the US has still not grasped the point.