August 27th, 2016 – Fort Russ News –
– op-ed by: Joaquin Flores –
Ceasefire talks between the US and Russia over the war in Syria have broken down, with each side simply reaffirming their unmoved position on the conflict. This is likely to be an actual reflection of the ‘stalemate’ or ‘war of attrition’ (if one prefers) at Aleppo.
Fort Russ ran an article today, titled “Russia and US fail to agree on Syria and Ukraine“.
But this was originally titled “Russia and the United States completed the latest round of negotiations on the Syrian settlement” by RIA, a title which tells us very little about the substance of the actual situation.
The RIA piece, mirrored in shortened form by both RT and Sputnik, also failed to give a clear picture of the nature of these talks, reducing coverage to merely quoting the highly diplomatic language of Kerry and Lavrov. A sober reading between the lines of the somewhat detailed report on the talks provided by the RIA version, which we translated for the readers, will leave no uncertainty that no agreement has been reached.
Western press was more clear in communicating the reality of the situation. CNN failed to even bother covering this breakdown of talks at all, while the New York Times opted instead to run a piece by Max Fisher. This piece, while loaded with the standard western media disinformation talking points, at least clearly communicates the US’s actual position: “Syria’s Paradox: Why the War Only Ever Seems to Get Worse”.
Essentially the US and Russia ‘agree to disagree’ and pursue their own separate courses on Syria. ‘Remaining technical problems’ is a Russian semi-euphemism for ‘all problems remain’. The abstract language of diplomacy can unfortunately disguise a few important things which ought to be said which would more clearly summarize this meeting.
There are no conceptual problems – both parties know what the score is. The US has communicated its right to violate Syrian airspace, and Russia has communicated its right to operate legally in Syrian airspace. This is part of the ‘technical problem’. This will lead to collisions and an increase in bellicosity.
This is cause for great concern. Events are moving at a rapid pace, the fog of war is thick, and even the best geostrategic analysts fail to find consensus on the meaning and consequences of the Turkish moves in northern Syria, ostensibly against PKK linked YPG separatists.
Ultimately the US and Russia cannot agree on much, things which are cited in the RIA article as areas of agreement are simply recognizing their respective positions. They ‘agree’ that they have their own interests that aren’t aligned. This is all that is misleadingly being reported even in ‘Russian media’ as reducing ‘areas of misunderstanding’.
The only ‘concrete steps’ they have agreed to is that there will be a follow up meeting between their subordinates to resolve ‘technical questions’ among ‘experts’.
The correct interpretation of diplomatic signals in international relations leads us towards a pessimistic view of the possibilities moving forward. An agreement or meeting between Obama and Putin would be a symptom of a positive development.
But the devolving of the talks to the subordinates of Lavrov and Kerry is a negative development, and this is what has happened. That is the only ‘concrete step’ that has been agreed to, and the baseless tone of optimism being promoted in official Russian media spheres clearly fails to communicate the gravity of the failure of these talks, to their audience. The situation in fact promises to deteriorate.
The US is trying to increase the number of groups that are included in the ceasefire, and Russia is showing its intel, that ‘it knows’ that these groups are under the (formerly) Jabbat al-Nusra organization, regardless of names. These are semi-veiled warnings, communicating in diplomatic language, that Russia will continue to target all of these groups it considers terrorists, regardless of what banner they operate under.
There is no ceasefire on the horizon. Russia entered initially believing there could be grounds for a type of ‘weekly 48 hour’ rolling ceasefire, to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, but the Aleppo situation has not improved substantively, nor was the ‘Iranian air base’ issue ultimately significant.
With Ukraine, Russia recognizes the the US ‘has an interest’ which is an intentionally vague diplomatic phrasing, and the height of obviousness. We should expect a continued increase in bellicosity as the US enters its presidential elections.
A ‘ceasefire’ was not even technically how to define what could be achieved in the best possible outcome of these now failed talks. A ceasefire historically is a cessation of hostilities as parties move towards a political resolution of a conflict. But this term has become abused in recent years, referring to any temporary cessation or even relative decrease of live fighting which is in fact a pretext for something else. ‘Ceasefire’ in modern parlance refers only to some recognition of a stalemate on the one hand, while such ‘ceasefires’ are more like the rules of ‘downs’ in US football matches, where each side rearms, rechecks the playbook, resupplies, and reassesses the situation at the line of scrimmage. That attempts even to conduct this type of ‘newly defined’ ceasefire have totally failed, indeed bodes poorly.
Concretely, and what was missing from Russian media reporting, are details about the proposals themselves.
What is missing from the official Russian media reporting is that Russia proposed a weekly 48 hour ceasefire, starting with a single 48 hour ceasefire. Russia insisted on tight controls, under agreed mechanisms of UN oversight, which would prohibit the US, its GCC allies, and perhaps Turkey from funneling in equipment and supplies for combat units.
Under the umbrella of ‘critical infrastructure’, the US had hoped to use a ceasefire pretext to funnel in, at the very least, dual use parts: parts which could be used to repair artillery equipment and related military pieces, which are being stripped from existing plumbing and electrical infrastructure.
Russia opposed proposals of these types in the now failed talks, instead proposing that the SAA held Castello Road could be used, under UN, Russian, and SAA supervision, to get actual humanitarian supplies into the city.
Problematically of course is that food and humanitarian supplies, medical supplies, etc., are needed as much by terrorist outfits than they are by any remaining civilians who were either held hostage, unlucky, or foolish to remain in the besieged parts of foreign occupied Aleppo.
The other practical problem is political – western and GCC backed armed groups would be – under the US proposal – in the position to ration out any excess (once terrorist needs are met) needed supplies to the residents of occupied Aleppo. But this reinforces the Stockholm syndrome presently in effect.
The best way to understand the outcome of the Geneva talks at the President Woodrow Wilson Hotel, between Lavrov and Kerry which concluded on August 26th, is a failure to arrive at any agreement. The situation will undoubtedly deteriorate further.