Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made it clear on Monday that Russia puts the entire blame for the renewed fighting in and around Aleppo on the US for its failure to implement the February agreement for the separation of the rebel forces the US calls “the moderates” from those of Jabhat Al-Nusra (ie. Al-Qaeda).
Lavrov’s comments could not be clearer or more scathing:
“What is now happening in Aleppo and around it – we warned the Americans about this in advance. The U.S. knows that we will be providing air support to the Syrian army to prevent territories from being seized by terrorists.
In a telephone conversation I told US Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States has for many months defaulted on its obligation to separate the opposition groups loyal to it from Jabhat al-Nusra. Unable to do that the United States has been saying all the time that the positions of “good” and “bad” opposition groups are mixed and it has been asking us and the Syrian leadership to postpone air strikes.
We believe that since last February there has been more than enough time for the normal opposition to separate from the terrorists (the ceasefire took effect in Syria on February 27). All those who have not distanced themselves from the terrorists have nobody to put the blame on but themselves. I explained that to John Kerry very clearly and emphasised the absolute need for the Americans to comply with another promise of theirs – to take action to prevent infiltrations of militants and weapons from Turkey.
We are being told that Washington has been doing precisely that, but we will make decisions as to what our air group should be doing further on proceeding from our vision of the situation. We share our vision with the Americans in daily videoconferences between the Khmeimim air base and the US command in Amman. There will be no surprises for the Americans in that respect.
The developments inside Aleppo and around it are is something we’d warned the Americans of well in advance. The United States knows that we will provide the most active air support for the Syrian army in order to prevent terrorists from capturing territories. We expect that our partners will be cooperating with us in earnest and by all means avoid using our regular contacts to push ahead with inconspicuously implementing some other plans – B, C, or D – behind our backs.”
The bombing in and around Aleppo appears to have a broadly defensive character – to help the Syrian army and its local allies repulse rebel attacks – rather than to gain for the Syrian army more territory. Most reports suggest the bombing has been successful, enabling the Syrian army to defeat attacks on its positions, causing the situation to stabilise.
Interestingly the US response to the resumption of Russian air strikes in and around Aleppo was not a chorus of denunciation but a telephone call to Lavrov by Secretary of State Kerry on Tuesday, supposedly to “coordinate approaches” in Syria.
It is not impossible that during the call Kerry complained to Lavrov about the air strikes. However on balance it seems the US priority in the run-up to the US Presidential elections remains to keep the conflict on the back burner with the US administration concerned that a crisis with Russia in Syria would go down badly with US voters. If so then that would explain why the US for the moment appears to be pursuing diplomacy with the Russians rather than seeking confrontation.
If the US is not publicly complaining about the bombing the same cannot be said of the Syrian opposition. The London based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is accusing the Syrian government and Russia of “hysterical” bombing of Aleppo, with The Times of London reporting more complaints about the bombing from those in Aleppo it calls “opposition activists”.
If the Syrian and Russian military posture in and around Aleppo is for the moment defensive, this is probably in part because the main focus of the Syrian army’s offensive operations lies elsewhere – in the east against Daesh.
A flood of reports speak of Syrian army advances into Raqqa province – with Daesh fighters supposedly melting away – and with the Syrian army now just 55-65 km from Raqqa.
Elsewhere it seems the Syrian army has captured more territory from Daesh in the vicinity of Palmyra, thereby further securing the government’s control of that city, and is now starting its advance towards Deir Ezzor, where it aims to lift Daesh’s siege of that city.
The priority therefore for the moment appears to be to defeat Daesh. The “race to Raqqa” long predicted by such analysts as the Moon of Alabama now seems to be well and truly underway, with concerns already being expressed in some sections of the Western media that the Syrians and the Russians might get there first before the US and its allies do.