On June 9, the defense ministers of Russia, Syria and Iran met in Tehran to discuss counter-terrorism activities and security initiatives that would prevent jihadists from conducting wider operations in the region. Russian Defense Ministry statement said the talks were focused on «priority measures in reinforcing the cooperation» in the fight with Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra terrorist groups.
The trio agreed that a «comprehensive ceasefire» and humanitarian aid were vital in establishing firm peace in Syria. The agenda also included «supporting the Syrian army» and «specified priorities», like preventing ammunition and weapons supplied by other countries from getting into the hands of internationally-recognized terrorist groups.
Russian Kommersant newspaper reported that the parties discussed the targets for air strikes to be delivered by Russian Aerospace Forces to support the operation of Syrian government troops in Aleppo. According to Kommersant, Syria’s government forces’ offensive to liberate Raqqa was also included into the agenda.
The visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to Tehran comes at the time the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group has become active in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
Fierce fighting with the use of armored vehicles has been under way in Syria’s Aleppo province over the past several days. The militant formations in the Aleppo area operate under the command of Turkey’s military advisers, Russia’s Foreign Ministry official spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on June 10. The Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group has launched another offensive against the positions of Syria’s government forces to the north and south of Aleppo, the diplomat informed. The group’s goal is to encircle the Syrian army forces.
The spokeswoman said, intensive traffic of trucks with armed guards have been spotted in the city. According to her, the Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham terrorists are attacking the positions of government troops and people’s militia in Sheikh Maqsood, a Kurdish populated neighborhood in Aleppo. The frequent attacks and mortar shelling show that terrorists have no shortage of ammunition.
«A concentration of large forces of terrorist groups Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra is registered near the settlements of Bshantara, Kfar-Besin. Movement of armored vehicles and cargo trucks was also registered from settlements of Dar Taiz, Jabal Kabtan, Baitarun to the neighborhood of Al-Zahraa», a spokesman for the Russian Center for reconciliation of warring parties in Syria told reporters on June 10.
Russia is concerned over the slowing political settlement process in Syria and is urging to start a new round of inter-Syrian peace talks as soon as possible.
The events in Aleppo are taking place as the war against the Islamic State has reached a critical phase with the Iraqi Army approaching the group’s stronghold of Fallujah and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) marching on the group’s bastion in northern Syria. Meanwhile, the Syrian Armed Forces, backed by Russian aviation, have started a wide-scale military operation to liberate the IS capital of al-Raqqa. The Russia-supported coalition has to step up its operations in Aleppo with the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group becoming the main obstacle for the further extension of the cessation of hostilities. The fighting in Aleppo makes Syria keep substantial Russia-supported army formations in the area preventing them from joining the battle against the Islamic State group in the Raqqa area. The control of Aleppo has a strategic logistical, diplomatic and PR importance. In other words, the side that controls the city will be able to turn the tide of the international talks on the Syrian crisis. This is why al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham have recently launched a series of military operations in the city and its nearby areas, pushing Kurdish units from the Sheikh Maqsoud district and gaining the ground in the area of the Kan Touman town.
The ceasefire regime took effect in Syria on February 27. Shortly before that (December 18, 2015), the UN Security Council adopted a resolution supporting a cessation of hostilities. The document drafted by Russia and the United States was backed by all 15 Security Council member states. The ceasefire regime does not cover the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist organizations.
The militant groups have had a lot of time to decide if they wanted to join the regime of ceasefire or not. Many of them have decided not to comply. The United States has failed to separate the moderate opposition units it controls from terrorists. The Syrian border with Turkey is still being used to smuggle weapons to terrorists in Syria.
All the above mentioned events and statements have taken place after Washington rejected Russia’s proposal for cooperation in Syria.
The peace talks in Geneva have all but collapsed.
This is a decisive moment. The situation in Aleppo can hardly be tolerated anymore with civilian casualties mounting and Syria’s government troops more frequently coming under fire risking encirclement by enemy forces.
Russia has fulfilled its obligations according to the agreement reached with the US in early May.
The United States has failed to comply. The groups under Western control stage provocations acting as Jabhat al-Nusra fighters. The US ally Turkey continues to support terrorist groups in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. To a large extent, Washington is responsible for the consequences. With the peace process stalled and ceasefire breached, Russia has to act.