When Russia launched its military operation in Syria, US President Barack Obama warned Moscow that it was going to fail getting «stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work». The outgoing president was proven wrong. As a result, his Syria policy was a failure.
It may take a few days or weeks, but one thing is certain – the terrorists in eastern Aleppo will have to stop fighting as the Syrian army backed by allies is rapidly closing in on the rebels. Actually, a decisive blow against terrorists has already been delivered. Only a few squares in the second largest Syria city are remaining under their control. A crippling setback for the Western-backed Syrian extremist groups has become inevitable. With their stronghold lost, they will have to run away or surrender to Syrian government forces backed by Russian advisers and air power.
But the fall of Aleppo will not mean an end to the hostilities. There will be terrorist groups involved in a guerilla war, Raqqa is still to be retaken from Islamic State (IS) and major battles are still to be fought in Hama, Homs and Idlib provinces and other places.
The stance of external powers is crucial to the outcome of the war. Western Journalism cites Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, saying the recent successes by the pro-Assad coalition «remove American options for meaningfully challenging the regime through proxy forces. That’s when a breakthrough Russia-US agreement to revive the talks on Syria was reached.
Speaking at a conference in Rome on December 3, Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, said US State Secretary John Kerry had offered new proposals to end the battle for Aleppo. According to the statement of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, the proposals were «in line with the position of the Russian experts at the talks with the Americans» The top Russian diplomat added that Russia is ready to immediately send diplomats and military experts to Geneva in order to coordinate mutual operations with the United States. The foreign chiefs are to meet again on the sidelines of a European security conference in Hamburg, Germany, on December 8-9.
In early October, Washington said it was suspending bilateral cooperation with Moscow. Now reality made it drastically change its stance. President Obama is understandably trying to find some creative way to salvage its Syria policy in the final months before a new administration takes office in January, 2017. He wants to go down in history as a president who achieved progress. It explains the about-turn in his policy on Syria.
Russian officials have said the cooperation was shattered by those in the US seeking to settle the Syrian crisis by force. They have repeatedly condemned America for failing to separate the so-called «moderate» Syrian opposition, who they support, from terrorists (especially the Jabhat al Nusra group), as was stipulated in September’s ceasefire agreement.
Moscow hopes to resolve the situation in Aleppo by the end of the year. «We need to force these terrorists out the same way as they need to be forced out of Mosul and Raqqa. It’s a common task», said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. According to Mr. Kerry, «diplomacy is still alive» and that «nobody is waiting» for the inauguration of Donald Trump as President on January 20.
This diplomatic breakthrough may become the beginning of Russia-US cooperation in Syria – a starting point to gradually encompass other areas of the relationship. During the presidential race, Donald Trump said he would weigh an alliance with Russia against Islamic State militants. It could be a good start. The post-war crisis management is a key area where both countries could be allies fighting the same enemy. International cooperation is crucial for success in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Russia and the United States could lead the process.
In October, Donald Trump Jr. attended a roundtable conference on ending the Syrian civil war that was hosted by a French think tank favoring closer cooperation with Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad. The conference held in Paris centered on urging the US and Russia to «reach accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis».
In November, the president-elect indicated that he could pull back US support to Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, saying «we have no idea» who the rebels really are. For his part, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that he considers Trump to be «a natural ally» in the fight against terrorism.
This opportunity should not be squandered, especially at a time when the Russia-US relationship has tumbled to a nadir. Donald Trump’s victory and the expected drastic changes in the US foreign policy open up new prospects for making progress in finding solutions to burning international problems.
Despite the differences over Ukraine, the two powers fruitfully cooperated on a number of critically important issues like the elimination of the Syrian chemical arsenal and the Iranian nuclear program. A joint endeavor to achieve progress in Syria would be a major step toward a safer world. In turn, the cooperation in Syria may become a basis for joint efforts in the Middle East. Cooperation in the region would encompass other areas of Russia-West relationship.
The need for interaction stems from the common threats to international security, such as the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, terrorism, local crises, and the disastrous effects of the Arab Spring. There is no alternative to cooperation. Joining forces in Syria will be a big stride in the right direction to benefit all those who are willing to establish peace in the Middle East and ward off the global terrorist threat.