US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow this week bearing what can only be described as a bribe to Russia. The unspoken essence of Washington’s arm twisting towards Moscow is this: give us Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s head on a platter – and we’ll call off the dogs of war in Ukraine. The latter part of the deal also comes with the added “sweetener» that the US and its European allies would lift economic sanctions off Russia.
It was Kerry’s second trip this year to Russia, during which he held discussions with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. US government-owned news service Voice of America hinted at the coupling of issues in a report headlined: “Kerry to focus on Syria, Ukraine during Russian trip».
VoA quoted a senior US State Department official as saying of Kerry’s Moscow mission: “Assad is still making the kinds of negative noises that Russia needs to discuss with him».
Note the supercilious American attitude on how “Russia needs to discuss» something with the Syrian leader. The US official then blurted this admission: “We are not playing, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ here, trading Ukraine for Syria. These are distinct issues with distinct paths forward».
Despite the official denial of linkage between Syria and Ukraine, that is exactly what Washington appears to be driving at.
Kerry’s visit this week to Moscow was preceded last week by US Vice President Joe Biden making his fourth high-profile trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. With customary indulgence of the US-backed regime, Biden addressed the Kiev parliament with stern warnings to Russia on “fulfilling the Minsk agreement".
Biden announced $190 million in financial aid to the beleaguered Kiev regime of President Petro Poroshenko. This is on top of $300 million in military aid that the US Congress allocated earlier in November.
In a separate visit, US State Department official Victoria Nuland – who engineered the regime coup in Ukraine in February 2014 – was also in Kiev earlier this month.
Notably, both Biden and Nuland’s delegations to Ukraine were marked by a serious uptick in ceasefire violations by the Kiev regime’s armed forces in eastern Ukraine. Since the Minsk accord came into effect in September, there has been relative quiet between the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) and the Russian-backed militia of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
However, in recent weeks there has been a dramatic escalation of violence putting the entire Minsk ceasefire at risk. The violations have largely been committed by Kiev’s forces, which have reportedly returned heavy armaments to the ceasefire Contact Line, as well as carrying out shelling against several locations within the self-declared Donetsk Peoples’ Republic (DPR) and its Luhansk counterpart (LPR).
While Biden was in Kiev lecturing Moscow about fulfilling the Minsk agreement, DPR spokesman Eduard Basurin claimed that the UAF had moved 238 tanks to the Contact Line and had carried out more than 100 breaches of the ceasefire in the past week alone.
There have been reported daily barrages of rockets and artillery on the DPR towns of Gorlovka, Spartak and Pisky and on Donetsk civil airport. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is assigned to monitor the truce, confirmed the blast craters and other damage caused by Multiple Launch Rocket Systems across Donetsk region, including at a hospital at Debaltsevo. Pointedly though, the OSCE did not flag up these violations with the prominence that the breaches deserve.
What seems undeniable is that the Kiev regime has ordered its military forces to step up provocations, and that the regime is doing so with at least the tacit approval of its paymaster in Washington. In this context, US Vice President Joe Biden’s admonitions to Russia about not implementing the Minsk accord seem more like a cynical self-fulfilling prophesy. Minsk is being broken by the US-backed Nazi-adulating regime, but Washington is contriving to lay the blame on Russia and the Russian-backed militia of DPR and LPR.
This is where Kerry’s diplomatic overtures in Moscow this week gain their real significance. The Americans are obviously trying to put more pressure on Moscow to push Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad into ceding to Washington’s plans for regime change. For months now, Kerry has been demanding Russia “to bring Assad to the negotiating table» – in order to discuss the Syrian leader’s own US-ordained demise!
Russia has repeatedly told Washington and its NATO, Turkish and Arab allies that the political future of Syria is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to decide alone – and without external interference. But the Americans just don’t get it.
Washington wants Assad and the Damascus government gone as part of its long-held scheme for regime change in Syria. That illicit covert scheme was underway for at least five years before the outbreak of Syria’s conflict in March 2011, under the guise of the Arab Spring revolts. It is bound up with other US-led regime-change operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, among other places, and is aimed at advancing US geopolitical hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East, including undermining Russian and Iranian influence.
When Kerry’s spokesman this week said that Assad “is still making the kinds of negative noises that Russia needs to discuss with him» what he was referring to was the Syrian president’s insistence that he has no intention of leaving office until the Syrian people vote him out. Nor is Assad’s government prepared to “negotiate with terrorists».
Assad reiterated his position – a political line shared by Russia and Iran – following the summit last weekend in Saudi capital Riyadh where various opposition factions had gathered. The alleged purpose of the Saudi summit was to form a unified front in anticipation of political talks that Washington is pushing for transition in Syria.
Attending the conference in Riyadh were representatives of insurgents known to have links with al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups, Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra. The latter two were not in Riyadh (for obvious public relations reasons), but two groups that were there, Ahrar al Shams and Jaysh al Islam, are integrated with the terror network. Both are also supported directly by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. (Amazingly, Saudi Arabia along with Qatar this week announced the formation of a 34-Islamic nation anti-terror alliance.)
Syria’s elected leader Assad has every reason and right to rebuff this so-called Saudi-sponsored “opposition». Several “patriotic opposition» groups which the Assad government is prepared to enter into political dialogue with were not invited to the Saudi summit.
Anyway, returning to Washington’s evident bribe to Russia, the BBC reported this week: “Syria conflict: Kerry seeks to narrow divisions with Russia». The BBC’s inference of mutuality is a euphemism. More to the point is that the US is the party that is doing all the trying to narrow divisions – that is, to get Russia to adopt its objective of forcing Assad to quit power.
Given Russia’s decades-old strategic alliance with Syria and given that Moscow knows full well that American regime change is a recipe for more instability in that country and the wider region, including eventual infiltration of terror groups into Russia’s own territory, it is inconceivable that Russia would freely go along with such a direction from Washington.
And that is where Ukraine as a lever comes into play. It represents both a threat of more violence on Russia’s doorstep against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, as well as a possible sweetener conveying sanctions relief.
It is not hard to imagine that if Washington were to suddenly and cynically declare that Russia is “now fulfilling Minsk» (by Washington curbing its pet-regime in Kiev) then the US will, in turn, “recommend» the lifting of economic sanctions that it and its European allies have imposed on Russia over the trumped-up Ukraine conflict for the past year.
But the catch is that Moscow will have to reciprocate with Washington’s demand for Syria’s Assad to go. Or in US diplomatic jargon, “narrowing the differences».
The countervailing side of the bribe is that if Moscow does not comply, then eastern Ukraine will see a slide back to US-backed war. The war drums are already beating.