Aleppo. War and diplomacy. P-IV

First part of the book is here.

Second part of the book is here.

Third part of the book is here.

Highly recommended to read them all first, before reading a fourth part.

 

Again, a few basic rules:

ALAFF is going to post the whole translation by parts. In this post you will have fourth part — two subsections «The initiative of urgent medical evacuation from the Eastern Aleppo» and «Egeland’s plan» or blackmail of groupings«. Text will be supported by links and photos to enrich the submitted material. Some photos are originally from the book, some from other resources to illustrate material of the book. Feel free to follow the links, as well as click on the images for bigger size. The end of each post will contain footnotes and sources.

In some places there may be a personal ALAFF’ comment — it will be indicated as «ALAFF remark» and it will be highlighted in brown. Naturally, this comment(s) is a personal poin of view and it is not directly related to the book (i.e it is not presented in the book).


 

Structure of the book:

  • Introduction — p.10
  • Aleppo, information war and attempts to contain Russia — p.19
  • UN initiatives to rescue militants in Aleppo — p.48
    • Humanitarian pauses and humanitarian convoys — p.51
    • The initiative of urgent medical evacuation from the Eastern Aleppo — p.68
    • «Egeland’s plan» or blackmail of groupings — p.77
    • Evacuation of «civil activists» — p.89
  • Initiative of S. de Mistura on the withdrawal Jabhat al-Nusra militants from the Eastern Aleppo — p.93
  • Russian-American negotiation on Aleppo and issues of combating terrorism in Syria— p.99
  • A «narrow group» of interested states — a multipolarity or polycentric dualism? — p.163
  • Evacuation of militants from Eastern Aleppo — a unique operation of the Russian military — p.177
  • The liberation of Aleppo and the intensification of military-political efforts to establish an all-Syrian regime for the cessation of hostilities — p.187
  • «Lessons of Aleppo»: geopolitics of the Syrian crisis in the context of the transforming world order — p.213

 

The initiative of urgent medical evacuation from the Eastern Aleppo.

Another stillborn UN initiative is the «Plan of the medical evacuation from Eastern Aleppo», which was informally called the «Egeland Plan», as its inspirer was the humanitarian adviser of Staffan de Mistura, the Norwegian Jan Egeland.

The UN began to actively promote this topic, following the failed initiative of the humanitarian convoy. Thus, during the meetings of the Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Geneva, J. Egeland lamented «the need for the immediate(!) evacuation of 200 patients and wounded from Eastern Aleppo» and appealed to Russia to stop air strikes on the city and fulfill all the demands of the UN — this time to save people in need of medical care. This topic was on the front pages in the Western media too. Mass media portrayed the suffering of the wounded and sick civilians who were «trapped» in East Aleppo that was day and night bombed by Russian and Syrian aviation [1].

Russia immediately responded to the appeals of the UN. Reacting to the persistent requests of J. Egeland, as well as for humanitarian reasons, Moscow and Damascus decided to introduce a one-sided pause in hostilities and stop air strikes in Eastern Aleppo to evacuate the sick and wounded.

Since October 18, 2016 Russia in good faith has stopped the bombing of objects of terrorists in the city [2]. The Ministry of Defense of Russia announced the introduction of a three-day humanitarian pause starting from October 20, 2016 [3] (and, at the request of the United Nations, extending it from 8 to 11 hours), which then had to last for another day [4]. Moscow announced that civilians and militants could also use the regime of «silence» to safely exit the city on the seven humanitarian corridors established by Russia and Syria.

So what’s with the UN? Publicly for a long time ranting about the need for urgent medical evacuation of 200 wounded and sick and calling on Russia «to listen to the voices of women and children», the UN humanitarian agencies sabotaged the functions assigned to them. For 4 days the UN workers found… two wounded militants who wanted to be evacuated. The humanitarian workers could not answer where the remaining 198 «patients» were gone. And these two in the end allegedly refused to exit.

[5]


Excerpt from the press conference of S. de Mistura and J. Egeland, Geneva, 20 October 2016.

Unfortunately, S. de Mistura tried to divert the responsibility for the disruption of the humanitarian operation from the UN. During the press conference the special envoy «wriggled», noting that the UN welcomed a «one-sided»(!) humanitarian pause [5] — as if the suspension of fire on the part of Russia was not the fulfillment exactly of the UN demand. The Deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs S. O’Brien blamed the failure of the humanitarian operation on all sides, including the Government of Syria [6], which was a distortion of the facts.

The UN failed to take advantage of the humanitarian pause to save lives. But the militants from Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as the affiliated groups (Ahrar ash-Sham, Nour ad-din Zenki, etc.) during the regime of «silence» continued to shell the western part of Aleppo, controlled by the government of the SAR, using the improvised rocket launchers and mortars, they continued to lead a sniper fire on people seeking to leave the city on humanitarian corridors, to mine the exits from Eastern Aleppo, they continued to shoot those who called for quitting the areas occupied by jihadists (even if these people considered themselves to be oppositionists), they continued to forcefully take young people into their ranks [7] and to blackmail the Syrian authorities with water cut-off, since al-Nusra had previously taken control of the Suleiman al-Khalabi water station [8]. Moreover, the Jabhat al-Nusra grouping was reinforced with armored vehicles and personnel arriving from Idlib with the aim of unlocking the surrounding areas of Aleppo [9]. In total, the Russian military recorded 139 violations of the cease-fire regime by militants during the humanitarian pause [10]. The result — 81 people were killed, three officers from the Reconciliation Center in Khmeimim were injured. 14 civilians of the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Aleppo died.

Here it is worth mentioning that in Moscow they tried to take preventive measures in order to not let the Jabhat al-Nusra to undermine the regime of «silence». Thus, the Russian military appealed to the UN to help establish contacts between the Reconciliation Center in Khmeimim and the commanders of anti-government groups in order to prevent attacks on humanitarian workers by al-Nusra during the medical evacuation operation [11]. However, the UN workers did not do it. It seems that the Western advisers made it clear to them that when the «opposition» and al-Nusra in Eastern Aleppo were intertwined and subordinated to a single command, the so-called «moderate» groups would not discuss with the Russian side any issues that would in any way infringe upon «interests» of al-Nusra.

So why failed to carry out medical evacuation?

Here is one interesting detail. According to reports from Eastern Aleppo, the so-called «physicians» (from the self-proclaimed opposition «health department» of Eastern Aleppo, guarded by the West and some regions) blackmailed the UN. They refused to provide the UN workers with patient lists, demanding in exchange for humanitarian agencies to deliver «heavy» antibiotics and painkillers to the eastern quarters that were needed to treat wounded militants. That is, opposition pseudo-doctors openly traded the lives of their patients to receive medical assistance for jihadists. And a humanitarian adviser of S. de Mistura J. Egeland echoed them, demanding that Russia «show goodwill» and permit vans to the city. As the saying is, no comments are needed.

As soon as it became clear that the operation is breaking down, the department of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and, in particular, the Deputy Secretary-General S. O’Brien, started to spread absolutely false statements that «the parties», supposedly, do not provide the necessary level of security and the Syrian government does not authorize the import of medicines into the city, and that’s why the evacuation is, they say, to be postponed [12].

[06]

Anyone who watched a live video from Aleppo via the Internet, organized by the Russian Defense Ministry from UAV drones and web cameras, could see who really does not provide the security [13]. Explosions at roadblocks and in humanitarian corridors. The shelling of the western quarters. Frenzied with fear members of several Syrian families who, having escaped from the «eastern hell», told in an interview about the atrocities of terrorists.

Another UN «argument» is striking why the medical evacuation operation failed. Allegedly the «opposition» did not like that the Ministry of Defense of Russia called for using a humanitarian pause not only to evacuate the sick and wounded, but also to withdraw civilians and militants from Eastern Aleppo. As a result, supposedly, the «oppositionists» were worried that it was an attempt to «evacuate the entire population of the city». According to the logic of the opponents of Damascus, it was necessary, in violation of the norms of international humanitarian law, to introduce a ban on the free movement of people for the entire period of medical evacuation, and block the exits from Aleppo? We can imagine what kind of criticism would have come upon Russia in this case. Western media would be filled with stories about how unhappy women and children become a victims of the «brutal decision of Moscow and Damascus» which prevent civilians from escaping from the «boiler».

In the end, all patience has a limit, and on the third day S. de Mistura was informed by Russian diplomats and the military that during the humanitarian pause, announced at the urging of the UN, no patient was taken out. On the other hand, the militants skillfully used the «silence» for regrouping, shelling government positions (more than 100 times), to strengthen the line of defense and for «respite». Russia has confirmed that it will be possible to return to the regime of «silence» at any time — as soon as all the details of the medical evacuation operation are agreed [14] in order to avoid such failure a second time.

The result is known — the pause was terminated.

Medical evacuation has become the most failed UN project in the humanitarian sphere in Syria, at least in the memory of the author.

As a result, the anti-Assad camp, using the UN for the anti-Russian and anti-Syrian propaganda campaign which was centered on the demand for urgent medical evacuation, simply brushed aside the UN at the stage of implementation of the humanitarian project, putting the Organization and some of its employees in a quite unseemly role.

 

«Egeland’s plan» or blackmail of groupings.

Unfortunately, the lesson of medical evacuation was not learned by the UN. According to reliable information, field commanders, self-proclaimed «local councils» and, of course, their sponsors continued to press on the UN, demanding that the humanitarian workers insist on importing medicines and equipment into the blocked East Aleppo necessary for the return of wounded fighters of anti-government groups to service. At the same time, the linkage was persisted: the militants would release people in the needy for medical care from the besieged part of the city only if medicines would be delivered there. And this is despite the fact that the Russian military invariably confirmed its readiness for medical evacuation once the lists of those who need it would be received.

Unfortunately, the UN was lead by these demands. The UN humanitarian team developed the so-called «4-Point Plan«. Outwardly everything looked quite decent and «in UN-style», that is, with care for people.

The plan implied 4 points: delivery to the besieged part of the city of medicines and medical equipment (let’s note — this was the first point!); medical evacuation; delivery of food to blocked quarters; referral of medical staff to blocked quarters [15].

Indeed, at first glance the «Egeland’s plan» (it received this conditional name «in the corridors» of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Russia, since the humanitarian adviser of S. de Mistura J. Egeland played an active role in its promotion) was drawn up in favor of urgent assistance to the citizens of East Aleppo and aimed solely at alleviating the fate of the population.

But, as is usually the case with UN humanitarian initiatives, the devil was hiding in details. In fact, Russia, which was again loudly demanded to agree to all conditions of the humanitarian workers, was placed in the strict framework of the humanitarian plan parameters dictated by the militants and their sponsors and «migrated» under the UN «umbrella».

J. Egeland at the meetings of the Humanitarian Task Force on Syria in Geneva complained that the absence of a pause for medical evacuation would «look very bad in history books», obviously hinting at the fact that Moscow, supposedly, is better to agree to all demands of the UN workers — otherwise a Western propaganda machine will be launched against Russia, which has become skilled at positioning Russia as an ally of the «bloody regime of B. Assad» who is guilty of almost all the sufferings of the Syrians.

So what did the plan hide? First, its implementation was made dependent on the delivery of antibiotics and painkillers to the city — that is, the UN retransmitted the unacceptable demand of the militants, due to which the medical evacuation was disrupted. But now this condition was voiced by the mouths of international officials, which was done to exert additional pressure on Russia.

The principle was laid in the text that the UN would strive to deliver medical supplies, evacuate patients and rotate the medical staff immediately after 72 hours since the agreement on the plan is reached, — that is, the United Nations in fact attempted to put forward a solution to the problem of «medicine» as virtually the only priority — exactly what the militants demanded. Secondly, the sequence of steps within the plan was made dependent on the guarantees provided by the parties (in fact, this meant that Russia would be given the main responsibility for implementing the plan). Moreover, the document contained a «trap» meaning that the implementation of the plan required the prior consent of all parties and the introduction of «a sufficiently long pause» (as we recall, the UN rules in this area may vary depending on the wishes of the West). Finally, the «Egeland’s plan» stated that «patients» and family members (without quantitative restrictions) should have the right to leave the city without documents. As for the humanitarian pause, the UN workers demanded at least 12 hours of «silence» per day.

Let’s translate the «Egeland’s plan» into the language of practical actions, in order to understand what idea was promoted by its developers.

The UN workers tried to ensure that right in the midst of the counter-terrorist operation of the Syrian army, when even a couple of hours could become a decisive on the battlefield (changing positions, bringing ammunition, evacuation of the wounded), Moscow would agree to the introduction of 12-hour humanitarian pauses in Eastern Aleppo that no doubt would mean a real present for militants (they could rest, get food and medicine from the UN, regroup and wait for reinforcements). At the same time, while Russia and Syria, as sovereign states, would guarantee the observance of a humanitarian pause, it was practically impossible to achieve this from the numerous factions that hosted the city. As proposed by the United Nations, in the period of «silence» any person escorted by anyone else could go out from Eastern Aleppo without documents and checkings.

Russia, which «got burned» by interaction with the UN during the announcement of humanitarian pauses that were being disrupted by militants, and after the unsuccessful experience of medical evacuation, which was also sabotaged by anti-government forces, this time demanded that armed groups provide public guarantees that they will cooperate with humanitarian agencies in the implementation of the «Egeland’s plan».

The UN, without long thinking, sent a «confirmation» that the militants would do everything necessary to facilitate the implementation of the proposed plan. A «Confirmation» was the «report» of the UN humanitarian coordinator in Gaziantep R. Rajasing about the allegedly held meeting of the UN workers with representatives of armed groups on the Turkish-Syrian border — Ahrar al-Sham, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Falak al-Sham, Jabhat al-Shamiya, al-Fauj al-Awwal. During the contact the militants allegedly confirmed that they were speaking on behalf of all the factions in Eastern Aleppo, including Jabhat al-Nusra (this is about the Americans’ assurances that the «moderate» opposition practically did not interact with the terrorists). And they assured that they will ensure the implementation of the plan, as well as the safety of the movement of humanitarian columns, including the demining of roads, along which the transport will move. The «report» about the meeting of the UN workers with militants was made in the form of a regular text file, without any signatures/stamps. The names of the field commanders with whom the humanitarian workers spoke at the border were not even indicated.

This «dodge», of course, could not serve as a proof of the readiness of the armed opposition to cooperate in providing assistance to the population of Eastern Aleppo. Russia demanded real guarantees, to not let the situation with medical evacuation happen again when time was lost and the forces were wasted.

«Friends of Syria» in these conditions consolidated their potential in an attempt to provide Moscow (through the UN) with at least some kind of guarantees. It reached an absurdity: for example, the Japanese special envoy for Syria S. Nagaoka «on the fields» of the meeting of the Task Force on Humanitarian Access in Geneva transferred to Russian diplomats some «statements of Aleppo citizens» with comments in the Japanese language and claimed that these are guarantees for the implementation of the UN humanitarian plan on the part of militants.

As a result, the UN workers (or rather — and there is no doubt about it — Western intelligence officers from among the «humanitarian workers») composed a «statement» of five factions (Ahrar al-Sham, Nuor al-Din al-Zenki, Falak al-Sham, Jabhat al-Shamiya, al-Fauj al-Awwal) in support of the UN plan. In good English, the militants noted that they were accepting a «humanitarian plan for Aleppo of four points». Then came the anti-Assad tirade. The statement ended with the accusation against Russia and the «regime» that it was them who blocked the implementation of the plan.

pic_-_4_point_plan_statement

J. Egeland also handed over to Russian diplomats the «statement» of the Fastaqim Kama Umirt group. It also confirmed in English the acceptance of the UN humanitarian plan and the willingness to cooperate for its implementation [16]. The first impression: the statement of groupings — a dummy. The text for the IAF was probably compiled by the UN workers from the Gaziantep office (the most odious Anglo-Saxons of the UN team in Geneva were transferred there). There were no names of commanders, no signatures and stamps. Although even the «local council» of Eastern Aleppo, the interim government and «Fatah Halab» coalition of factions, rejecting the UN initiative to organize a humanitarian convoy to the city, published statements with stamps and signatures of the «leadership».

Moreover, according to the Russian military, three of the five groups that appeared as «authors» of the statement on the blank of the Free Syrian Army — Ahrar al-Sham, al-Fauj al-Awwal, Jabhat al-Shamiya — were not a part of the FSA. On the other hand, it is not clear for what reason Fastaqim Kama Umirt, who was a part of the FSA, for some reason unexpectedly appeared separately from other factions with a statement with a large number of typos [17] (at that, the document was not found on the Internet — it was mailed to the Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva by J. Egeland).

In the submitted statements, which looked like a blatant forgery, even the names of the field commanders were missing with confirmation of their readiness to take responsibility for this or that section of the transit of the humanitarian column. On the other hand, Nour al-din al-Zenki group was mentioned, which became famous not only for the beheading of a Palestinian boy, but also for the shelling of a school in West Aleppo when 8 children died. There were also no proposals on how to ensure that the convoy will not be shelled by Jabhat al-Nusra.

However, transferring to the Russian diplomats and the military the texts of the statements in English, J. Egeland said that Russia’s demand for the provision of written consent by the armed groups to the plan is allegedly have been fulfilled. Now, they say, it is necessary for the government of the SAR to publicly support the initiative of the United Nations. And Russia pushed the Syrian authorities to this.

Russian diplomats asked J. Egeland what do the so-called «local councils» think about the humanitarian plan of the United Nations. It was they who, as we know, became the culprits of the failure of the UN humanitarian initiative in August 2016. The UN worker bluntly stated that the «councils» are fully subordinated to armed groups (which is not entirely true, because in the case of the humanitarian convoy, primarily the politicized position of the «councils» did not allow the initiative to be implemented).

Not having bothered to answer the questions of Russian diplomats, the entire UN humanitarian team joined the campaign on active (and even «aggressive») promotion of the humanitarian plan for Eastern Aleppo. It was purely about pressure on Russia. Thus, J. Egeland told the media that the «opposition» had agreed to a humanitarian plan, the ball is now on the side of Moscow and Damascus [18].

pic_-_j_egeland_rus_syr


Excerpt from the Press Stakeout with Jan Egeland, Geneva, 24 November 2016.

This formulation of the question resembled blackmail. The advancement of the not elaborated plan that not provided a mechanisms to prevent provocations and victims, and not agreed with the parties, in the context of the ongoing counter-terrorism operation could have the aim of creating the semblance of a disruption by Russia and Syria of the UN humanitarian action [19] for their subsequent accusations of sabotaging the efforts of the World Organization.

Not being carried away by the theory of conspiracies, we still note that the humanitarian plan of the United Nations played into the hands of the anti-Assad camp — regardless the development of the situation. If implemented, it would extremely hamper and possibly even discontinue for a very long time the anti-terrorist operation in Aleppo (indirect evidence: the UN did not demand any humanitarian plans implying a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause from the Americans in Mosul, where at the same time the US helped the Iraqi army and the militia to liberate the city from ISIS). The very «process» of imposing to Russia a humanitarian plan on the part of the United Nations — even if it could not be carried out — was an instrument of exerting pressure on Moscow and creating of obstacles to the Russian efforts to combat terrorism in Eastern Aleppo. So the option was a win-win.

Despite all the provocative nature of this plan, Russian diplomats and military did not refuse to discuss it either in Geneva (within the framework of the Humanitarian Task Force) or in Syria itself (the Center for the reconciliation of the warring parties at the Russian air base Khmeimim was actively involved in the negotiations). However, our staff consistently achieved that the plan be given a realistic and balanced character and that it take into account the views of all parties, and not represent only the demands of jihadists and their sponsors. The UN staff did not want to agree with this. Or they did not dare disobey their sponsors who welcomed any means that allowed to create obstacles to the counterterrorist operation of Russia and Syria in Aleppo.


[1] Ismail A. Hundreds Are Wounded In Besieged Aleppo and Need Evacuation, UN Says / A. Ismail // Huffingron Post. 2016. 29 September.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/aleppo-syria-wounded_us_57ed1557e4b082aad9b96921

[2] Shoigu announced the early termination of air strikes in Aleppo. Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Forces of Syria are taking this step to introduce a humanitarian pause. 18 October 2016 //

https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2016/10/18/661392-shoigu-obyavil-dosrochnom-prekraschenii-aviaudarov-aleppo

[3] Humanitarian pause in Aleppo will be prolonged on October 20 for 3 hours. 19 October 2016 //

http://pronedra.ru/war/2016/10/19/gumpauza-aleppo/

[4] The General Staff announced the extension of the humanitarian pause in Aleppo until October 22. 21 October 2016 //

https://www.tvc.ru/news/show/id/103194

[5] Transcript of Joint Stakeout by UN Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura and UN Senior Adviser Mr. Jan Egeland. Geneva, 20 October 2016 //

https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2016-10-20/note-correspondentstranscript-joint-stakeout-un-special

[6] Under-Secretary-General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien, Statement on Syria. New York, 24 October 2016 //

https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-51

[7] Correspondence of civilians living in the eastern part of Aleppo

[8] Center for Rapid Responce to Violations of the CoH (Geneva Cell) / Interoffice Memorandum. 5 December 2016. Reg. No 140.

[9] Summary of the situation regarding the observance of the cessation of hostilities in Syria for the period from 17 to 23 October 2016. The Russian Group in the Rapid Response Center (Geneva)

[10] A letter from the head of the Center for the reconciliation of the warring parties in Khmeimim, deputy commander of the grouping of troops Lieutenant-General V.F. Savchenko to the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria A. Zaatari. 22 October 2016

[11] Center for Rapid Responce to Violations of the CoH (Geneva Cell) / Interoffice Memorandum. 22 November 2016. Reg. No 116.

[12] Under-Secretary-General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien, Statement On Syria (New York, 24 October 2016) //

https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/20161024_USG_ERC_statement_on_Syria%20-%20eastern%20Aleppo.pdf

see footnote №6

[13] The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation began broadcasting the exit of militants from Aleppo. 20 October 2016 //

http://www.interfax.ru/world/533223

[14] A letter from the head of the Center for the reconciliation of the warring parties in Khmeimim, deputy commander of the grouping of troops Lieutenant-General V.F. Savchenko to the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria A. Zaatari. 22 October 2016

see footnote №10

[15] Operational Details For the Four-Point UN Humanitarian Plan For Easter Aleppo. 3 November 2016. (The UN document. Presented to the members of the Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva on November 3, 2016)

[16] Syrian Arab Republic. Statement From the Revolutionary Groups Approving the United Nations’ Humanitarian Initiative. 20 November 2016 //

http://en.etilaf.org/press/on-the-un-four-point-humanitarian-aid-plan-in-aleppo.html

[17] From the Community and Follow-Up Committee of the Armed Revolutionary Groups in Aleppo to the United Nations Office in Turkey. Fastaqim. 22 November 2016

[18] Transcript of Press Stakeout with Jan Egeland, Special Advsor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, 24 November 2016 //

http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/(httpNewsByYear_en)/F6A1B83F032D58D7C12580760030BF7F?OpenDocument

[19] A letter from the Russian group at the Rapid Response Center (Geneva) addressed to the head of the Center for the Reconciliation of warring parties in Khmeimim, deputy commander of the grouping of troops Lieutenant-General V.F. Savchenko. 22 November 2016

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