Confirmation that the US has backtracked on its own proposal to withdraw Jihadi fighters from Aleppo comes just hours after a vote in the UN Security Council in which China joined Russia to veto a Western backed Resolution which would have imposed a 7 day ceasefire on the fighting in Aleppo.
It is clear from the UN Press Office’s summary of the discussion in the UN Security Council that the ceasefire, though initially for just 7 days, would have been subject to further extensions thereafter.
Moreover, though it seems the Resolution specifically referred to Aleppo, the ceasefire was intended to be more all-encompassing, and would have extended to every part of Syria, though groups specifically designated ‘terrorist groups’ – ie. ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s local branch Jabhat Al-Nusra – would have been excluded from it.
A few days ago I suggested that the latest US diplomatic initiatives – including the proposals made to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov a few days ago in Geneva by US Secretary of State Kerry – were intended to delay the fall of the Jihadi pocket in eastern Aleppo until after US President Obama quit the US Presidency in January. Here is how I explained it
“In reality – as Lavrov almost certainly knows – Kerry’s latest proposals probably are a last desperate bid to get the Russians to agree to a ceasefire in Aleppo so that what is left of the Jihadi pocket can be preserved intact until after Obama’s final departure in January.
That way Obama would be spared the humiliation of having the Jihadi pocket fall whilst he is still President, so that the blame for its eventual fall can be passed on by him and the members of his administration onto Donald Trump.
Lavrov’s comments suggest that the Russians are in no mood to help Obama in this way, and given the appalling state relations between the US and Russia have fallen to under his Presidency, it is difficult to see why they would do so.”
Yesterday’s manoeuvre in the UN Security Council appears to bear this out.
According to Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the draft Resolution was presented to the UN Security Council on the same morning as the vote, violating a rule that Resolutions must be circulated 24 hours before they are voted on.
In addition the Western powers somehow succeeded in getting Egypt to co-sponsor the Resolution. Egypt is a country with which Russia has had exceptionally good relations, and which has tended to side with Russian over the conflict in Syria. Indeed there are even some reports that Egyptian pilots have now joined the Syrian air force in Syria.
All this suggests an attempt to fast-track the Resolution through the UN Security Council before the Russians fully realised what was going on, whilst fooling the Russians into thinking that because Egypt had co-sponsored the Resolution that meant that it was in accord with Russian objectives.
The intention clearly was to get a ceasefire in Aleppo to preserve the Jihadi pocket there. Though the ceasefire would have been limited to only 7 days, the provision in the Resolution for its renewal would have exposed the Russians to tremendous criticism and pressure if at the end of that period they had refused to renew it. That pressure would then have been maintained right up to Trump’s inauguration in January, at which point – if the ceasefire was called off – the blame would have fallen not on Obama but on Trump.
If this is all correct then Kerry’s offer to Lavrov in Geneva to withdraw the Jihadis from Aleppo was never intended seriously but was simply a part of this game, intended to fool the Russians into thinking that the Resolution proposed to the UN Security Council yesterday was intended to complement this offer.
If this was the game the US and the Western powers have been playing over the last few days, then they should have known that Lavrov and Churkin are far too experienced and far too wise to these sort of tricks to fall for them.
Moreover this particular diplomatic manoeuvre was so patently dishonest that very unusually it also provoked a Chinese veto, notwithstanding that China generally prefers to hide behind Russia’s veto and abstain in UN Security Council votes where it is in a minority.
The extent of Chinese anger was made clear in the unusually pointed rebukes Chinese ambassador Liu Jeiyi addressed during the Security Council session to the ambassadors of the US and Britain. Here is how the UN Press Office reports them.
“Liu Jeiyi (China) called for more intensive efforts to forge a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political solution to the complex, sensitive and grave situation. Council action should complement current diplomatic efforts, he said, adding that efforts for a consensus within the Council should have continued.
An integrated approach was needed, he stressed, asking the United Kingdom’s representative what right he had to distort the positions of other countries, and requesting that he stop poisoning the atmosphere in the “august body”.
[R]eferring to the statement by the representative of the United States, [he] asked where the genesis of the situation in Syria lay and how the problems in other Middle Eastern countries had begun. There was a clear record that could not be distorted, he emphasised, adding that he would not repeat China’s position.”
(bold italics added)
If this analysis is correct, then it would explain why the US today (Tuesday) backtracked on proposals it made as recently as the weekend. Since the proposals failed to trick the Russians into letting yesterday’s Security Council Resolution pass, there was no further point to them, so the US – which never intended them seriously – just dropped them.
Quite obviously Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was right to be skeptical about these proposals, and to insist that they be fleshed out with a concrete timetable and proposals, when they were presented to him by Kerry in Geneva on Saturday and Sunday.
All in all this latest US diplomatic debacle shows why there is still a war going on in Syria. Instead of working with the Russians to achieve a realistic objective – saving the lives of the Jihadis and civilians in eastern Aleppo by withdrawing the Jihadis from the city – the Obama administration in its final days prefers to engage in complex and deceitful manoeuvres aimed at securing for the outgoing President a better public image. Obviously so long as diplomacy is conducted in this way genuine agreement between the US and Russia to end the war in Syria is impossible.
That this is not the right way to conduct diplomacy should anyway hardly need saying. That against hard bitten professionals like Lavrov and Churkin such manoeuvres have no possibility of success, and that all they do is sour the international atmosphere and lose the US the trust of countries like Russia and China, does not however appear to worry those who engage in them.
The big mystery in all this is the role of US Secretary of State John Kerry. Lavrov’s comments today suggest the Russians see him as a dupe of the dishonest tactics cooked up by others rather than as their originator and perpetrator, and that if anything they feel sorry for him.
If that is so (and I have my doubts) then his continued loyalty to an administration that repeatedly uses him in this way is astonishing.
Regardless of Kerry’s exact role, this episode shows why the Russians will not be sorry to see Obama go.
It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump and his new Secretary of State, whoever that turns out to be, can repair the damage.