General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russian General Staff, said that Russia’s patience is waning over the situation in Syria. According to him, Russia was in full compliance with its obligations to maintain cease-fire and ensure national reconciliation in Syria, while the US had problems with the «opposition under its control».
Earlier, US State Secretary John Kerry said that Syrian government troops were pushing ahead in an attempt to recapture Aleppo in defiance of the cease-fire agreement. In an unusually harsh statement, John Kerry warned Russia on June 15 that US patience on the Syrian conflict and the fate of its President Bashar Assad was running out.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded saying, Moscow suspects that the West would like to preserve the Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) terrorist group in some form and use it for the overthrow of Syria’s incumbent government.
What exactly is taking place in Aleppo and does the cease-fire agreement have any prospects for future?
The gist of the problem is that the militant groups in Aleppo are grouped around Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch condemned by UN resolutions the US voted for, that was never part of the cessation of hostilities and kept attacking Syrian government forces, particularly in southern Aleppo.
The State Secretary first argued al-Nusra, which denounced the ceasefire regime, should likewise be exempt from Russian airstrikes.
It was finally agreed that it would be fought after other rebel groups were given enough time to disassociate themselves from it.
The US failed to comply with its obligation and make militants split off from al-Nusra. Extremist groups keep on breaching the ceasefire agreement in Syria.
That’s what made the Russian Aerospace Forces resume business as usual and pound al-Nusra and the groups holding positions in the same areas.
US Defense Department officials told the Daily Beast that the rebels in Aleppo were affiliated with al-Nusra. «We have no role in Aleppo. The forces we are supporting… are fighting Islamic States», one of them explained.
It is propitious to note that al-Nusra militants and associated extremists in Aleppo are not fighting Islamic State. The Russia-supported Syria’s regular forces do. This is the fundamental difference. The Russian Aerospace Forces strike the positions of al-Nusra only, not any other group, and such operations dovetail with the Geneva cease-fire accords reached on February 27. Striking al-Nusra is the only way to prevent other extremist groups from coalescing around it.
Going back to Mr Kerry’s statement, it should be noted that the US-led coalition does not have the authority to fight the Syrian regime. The US military mission only authorizes strikes that target Islamic State.
There is another aspect of the problem. Is the US sincere? I.H.S. Jane’s, a security research firm, reported that the US supplied the opposition with about 3,000 tons of weapons during the cease-fire.
The US is protecting Ahrar ash-Sham, the al-Nusra’s closest and most powerful ally in Syria.
Ahrar helped Jabhat al-Nusra gain control of the Idlib province last year. Both extremist groups joined together in an offensive south of the city of Aleppo in early April in an open breach of the ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States and Russia.
Pat Lang, a former US defense intelligence officer, said, «The Russians evidently thought they could make an honest deal with US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama. Well, they were wrong. The US supported jihadis associated with [Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s Syria wing] ... merely ‘pocketed’ the truce as an opportunity to re-fit, re-supply and re-position forces. The US must have been complicit in this ruse. Perhaps the Russians have learned from this experience».
The cease-fire did not hasten any political solution. The opposition now has regrouped to start its activities with new vigor and new weapons supplied by Turkey.
Under the circumstance the ceasefire has lost its value for Russia as it lacks cooperation on the part of the US. «It cannot continue this way indefinitely», Gerasimov said in the above mentioned statement.
Addressing an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Sergey Lavrov argued that the reluctance of US-backed Syrian opposition groups to distance themselves from al-Nusra has been a major reason behind continuing fighting. He said the US could be «playing some kind of game here, and they may want to keep al-Nusra in some form and use it to topple the Syrian government».
It is clear that the US has failed to make militants and terrorists under its control in Syria comply with the ceasefire regime. The United States 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 cease-fire breached by US-backed terrorist groups, Russia’s patience is clearly running out. There is still time to address the problem by diplomatic means. The ball is in the US court.