The news from Syria appears to be encouraging…well, depending on your point of view. A Russian inspired selective «truce» has been declared, excepting Daesh and al-Qaeda in its various iterations.
So-called peace talks are being conducted between the Syrian government and so-called opposition groups. Who these latter groups are and what they represent is not clear. Nor is it clear if they are even Syrian or are supported by Syrians. All we know for certain is that the «opposition» represents foreign powers like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States.
The Russian government more recently announced a «withdrawal» of forces from Syria. At first it looked like a big skedaddle, based on the initial poorly formulated official communiqués. Russia had made a deal with Washington, some speculated, at the expense of the Syrian government. Syrian generals and officials were being unreasonable about the future of their country; they were not being sufficiently «flexible». Russia had to send a message. Jihadists were jubilant, according to some reports, celebrating the withdrawal of Russian forces and bragging that they would launch an immediate counter-offensive. The United States and European Union smugly approved of the Russian withdrawal.
For a moment it appeared as though Russia might be throwing over its valiant Syrian ally. Some people in Damascus were stunned. Of course, Russians know that it’s never a good idea to desert an ally, when you yourself need allies in a hostile world. People in Tehran and Beijing are watching. Can we depend on Russia, or do we cut a deal with the enemy? Even in Moscow some observers had doubts or condemned the Russian government for «currying favour» with the United States. It’s an attempt to gain acceptance in the West at Syrian expense.
Amongst elements of the Moscow elite, just being Russian is not good enough, apparently, one has to be accepted by the West to be at peace with oneself. It’s an old Russian complex nourished by dreams of comfort and wealth. Back in the 1920s a Soviet diplomat (Ivan M. Maisky) wrote to Joseph Stalin: «there remains [amongst us]… some trace of that feeling of inferiority in relation to Europe which in former times liberal publicists [journalists]… so deeply ingrained in us, [and] which manifested itself through the language of the every man of that time in the common expression ‘How can we! What can we do! You can’t take a pig in a pastry shop’ [Gde uzh nam! Chto uzh nam! S sukonnym rylom, da – v kalashnyi riad]». The «publicists» are still called «liberals», or Atlanticists, and still they have their complexes and their ambitions.
The day after announcing the «withdrawal» of Russian forces, various sources in Moscow including President Vladimir Putin issued clarifications and denials. It was after all only to be a reduction of Russian forces in Syria. Media in Damascus reported that Russian fighter aircraft were still hitting Jihadist positions, still providing ground support for the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). The Syrian government reassured its people that everything was alright. Sputnik reported that Russian forces were aiding the SAA offensive against Palmyra. Some people breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they had been too hasty to judge Russia’s actions. The Jihadists cut short their celebrations, quietly cursed Allah, and returned to their caves.
So where do matters stand in the Syrian war? Reports say that the «truce» with certain «opposition» groups is «holding». New groups are joining the truce, apparently, thanks to Russian mediation. There are more than 100 now adhering to the stand-down. Are these groups Syrian? A French general said that 80% of the Jihadists fighting in Syria were terrorists. One wonders what happened to all these people most of whom are not Syrian. No one is saying. Were they all killed? Apparently not. Russia issued a warning last week that it would have to resume bombing if violators of «the truce» were not called to order. The Russian warning was addressed to Washington to rein in its so-called moderate Jihadists, an oxymoron by the way, as I have written on previous occasions. There are no «moderate» Jihadists.
Soon thereafter, as if by cue, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow to be welcomed warmly by President Putin. It remains to be seen if Kerry’s meeting in Moscow will produce any definite results. You know how it goes? Kerry says one thing in Moscow, and another when he gets back home. The Buck Turgidsons and Dr Strangeloves in Washington usually have the last word.
Nor do we know if «truce» violations have been reduced to tolerable levels. It’s all very complicated. NATO member Turkey is reported to be sending arms, supplies and reinforcements into Syria across its borders.
Turkish support of Daesh is well known and well-documented in the media. The policies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain unchanged. Nor has the US position evolved much, notwithstanding the Kerry visit to Moscow.
Reports are frequent in the western press about the need to «federalise» or partition Syria. The United States is apparently playing a double game with the Kurds who have not yet been invited to participate in the peace talks. The «opposition» insists that Assad must go. You can understand why, because Assad is the leader of the secular, multi-confessional resistance to the Jihadist, Wahhabi invasion. Having put his life on the line for his country, Assad is recognised to have wide popular support and would probably win post-war national elections. How could foreign Wahhabi terrorists, or Syrian émigrés, men in expensive suits in foreign pay, win a Syrian election? One imagines that the West would find a way to make it happen, if Russia lets them. You can see the absurdity of the situation, the Jihadists, representing the interests of their foreign quartermasters, insist that Assad must go because he could win elections they could never win… well, assuming the elections were honest.
So where does that leave the questions of war and peace in Syria? It’s impossible to predict, though the circumstances do not augur well for peace. The expensive suits who claim to represent the Syrian «opposition» only represent their foreign paymasters. One reputable commentator on Syria says the peace talks are «a masquerade» and that nothing will come of them. One easily understands such pessimism. Why did the Russian government press for peace talks before the enemy was beaten? Everyone knows, or should know, that you never let an enemy up when you’ve got him down by the throat. You’ll be sorry if you do. Just look at what has happened in the Ukraine. Daesh and various al-Qaeda derivatives are not yet beaten. Turkey is resupplying and refitting its mauled Daesh forces in Syria. Jordan’s role is duplicitous. Jordanian King Abdullah, yet another Middle Eastern potentate, claims to be working in tandem with apartheid Israel. In face of all this, the SAA still needs air, intelligence and logistical support. Ideally, one should finish off the enemy by cutting his supply routes and hitting his suppliers. That means Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Of course, one cannot hit the perpetrators who make proxy war, hiding behind their borders, or in the case of Turkey, hiding in NATO skirts.
Perhaps the Russian government wants to head off Turkish or Saudi overt military intervention which could set off a wider war. Maybe President Putin saw the opportunity to propitiate the United States, by not destroying US backed «moderate» Jihadist factions, and by permitting al-Qaeda groups to change their names and become «moderate» and Syrian. There cannot be the slightest doubt, by the way, that the United States has been and remains deeply involved in the backing of Jihadist groups in Syria, so called «moderates» allied with the al-Nusra front and other terrorist groups.
Russia wants to «partner» with the United States, the principal force working against Russian objectives in Syria (and elsewhere). The US government supports Turkey (despite reports to the contrary) and Saudi Arabia, both of which are determined to bring down the Damascus government. It has just come to light that the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aimed to destroy Syria to reinforce apartheid Israel. Yet Russia still hopes to make Washington see reason even though President Barack Obama will be gone in ten months, and whoever replaces him, Clinton being a possibility, could make things a lot worse. You can see the difficulties. «I know, I know», Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov might say, «But that’s diplomacy. We work with those with whom we must work, and we do what we can».
In the meantime, the war continues. As I write these lines, Palmyra has fallen to the SAA with Russian air support, 41 sorties in the last few days. Hurrah, it’s a great victory for Syria and for Russia. But supply lines are still open from Turkey and Daesh-occupied Iraq. «Assad must go», is still the refrain. At the same time the Daesh cancer is spreading. Brussels is the latest European city to be hit by terrorists, though the Mainstream Media does not call these attacks «blowback».
«If you run with the wolf pack», goes the Russian proverb, «you must live by its laws». Blowback is the direct consequence of building up Takfiri forces in the «former Yugoslavia» and especially in the Middle East in order to overthrow independent, secular governments disliked by the United States.
Talking and fighting at the same time may not be a bad Russian policy. One has to wait and see. Diplomacy can’t be separated from military success on the various fronts in Syria. Diplomacy needs military and political strength to succeed. It’s all well and good for Russia to try to improve relations with the United States, that’s understandable, but not at the expense of its national interests or its allies.