It has taken the Russians no time to reject US Secretary of State Kerry’s demand that the ceasefire in Syria be extended to Jabhat Al-Nusra (i.e. to Al-Qaeda’s local Syrian branch) and that the Russians and the Syrians in effect impose a no-fly zone on themselves in northern Syria.
Directly after Kerry’s comments to the UN Security Council Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Rybakov, in his characteristically understated language, described the proposal as “unworkable”.
“To find the way out of this situation that would suit the US and the groups patronised by the Americans, this scheme was proposed, but it cannot work.”
Instead Ryabkov made it clear that Russia is prepared to bomb militant Jihadi organisations in Syria which refuse to separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra.
He also flatly rejected US attempts to (in effect) rewrite the Kerry – Lavrov agreement to make it more favourable to the US agenda of achieving regime change in Syria by softening the US’s obligation in the agreement to separate the fighters the US supports from Jabhat Al-Nusra.
“The agreement has too many foes. The events of the past few days dealt a direct blow on that agreement. Of course, we see no alternative to what is written down in that document. We believe that the wording is rather balanced and apparently describes the maximum possible in this situation, a situation of an acute crisis and continuing tragedies, a situation where Russia and the United States remain considerably divided in conceptual terms as to what should be done and how for the sake of addressing this problem.”
(bold italics added)
Ryabkov’s comment about Russia and the US being “considerably divided in conceptual terms” is identical to the observation made in The Duran by Adam Garrie that agreement between the US and Russia over Syria is ultimately impossible because of the fundamental difference in outlook and objective between the two countries.
Ryabkov homed in on what the Russians see as the fundamental problem with the whole peace process: the US’s unwillingness or inability to engineer the separation of the fighters it supports from Jabhat Al-Nusra
“Regrettably, the US Administration is still unable to do what is required for the full implementation of the agreement. To be more precise, to bring about the separation of the moderates and the terrorists. Nor can the United States guarantee the implementation of a number of other components of this agreement which we’ve been witnesses to over the past few days.”
Where Ryabkov prefers moderate understated language Maria Zakharova, Russia’s formidable Foreign Ministry spokesman, is (as might be expected) far more outspoken.
She has condemned blustering speech at the UN Security Council as a “show for millions of viewers and primarily, for the mass media, for cameras”. She has also pointedly referred to the US’s insistence on keeping the terms of the Kerry – Lavrov agreement secret, and has asked rhetorically why that might be so
“Why are the Russian-U.S. agreements not published or made public? For a very simple reason: then the entire world will know what commitments the sides have undertaken inking these agreements.”
She too has flatly rejected any re-writing of the Kerry – Lavrov agreement and has said that the problem is that the US – by failing to separate the fighters it supports from Jabhat Al-Nusra – is not implementing its terms
“The recipe is simple. It has been specified in detail and approved of and you don’t need to look for it anywhere. It (the Kerry – Lavrov agreement – AM) stipulates the separation of opposition – call them any names you please, because some call them militants while others say they are the moderate opposition – the very opposition that hasn’t laid down arms and continues combat operations – It should be separated from terrorists.”
Meanwhile both Zakharova and Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin have meanwhile criticised Kerry for misrepresenting Russian statements about the attack on the relief convoy.
All I will say about that is that Kerry in his comments to the UN Security Council appeared at one point to say that the Russians were alleging that the relief convoy had self-combusted ie. had caught fire by itself. Even the most cursory reading of Russian statements about the convoy shows this is not true. In fact the Russians have made it fairly clear that they believe the Jihadis intentionally set fire to the convoy themselves, though in order not to compromise the prospects of the impartial on-the-spot investigation they are demanding they have been careful not to say it in so many words. When someone turns to ridicule and misrepresentation to trash another’s argument, it is in my experience an infallible sign that they feel themselves to be on shaky ground, and I see no reason to think Kerry is any different.
Regardless of that, I doubt that the Russians are unduly concerned about the allegations the US is making about the convoy. They have made it fairly clear that they see the media storm the US is trying to work up over the convoy as an attempt to divert attention from what they see as the far more serious US attack on the Syrian troops defending Deir Ezzor. The Russians have made it fairly clear that they do not think this US attack was a “mistake” even if again, so as not to jeopardise future negotiations with the US, they are not so openly. Here for example is what Ryabkov in his understated way had to say about it
“It is not a tragedy, it is a very dramatic development regarding the agreement as such. It is a heavy blow on its groundwork.”
Meanwhile President Assad of Syria – unconstrained by the diplomatic language the Russians feel obliged to use because of their ongoing discussions with the US – has said openly that the attack was intentional. On the facts it is hard to disagree with him (see here and here).
Latest reports from Syria show that the ceasefire has completely broken down and that the fighting has resumed in earnest. It seems that the Syrian army, having repulsed the Jihadi attacks on Aleppo which were made under the cover of the ceasefire, is once more on the attack.
Though Kerry and Lavrov are having more meetings in New York, it is the fighting on the ground in Syria which tells the true story. This latest peace initiative is dead.