Aleppo. War and diplomacy. P-VI (I)

Previous parts of the book:

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

 

Again, a few basic rules:

ALAFF is going to post the whole translation by parts. In this post you will have sixth part — «Russian-American negotiation on Aleppo and issues of combating terrorism in Syria«. 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).

!! The chapter «Russian-American negotiation on Aleppo and issues of combating terrorism in Syria» takes more than 60 pages of the book. It would be too much to put all translation in one post, so it will be divided into two parts. In this post you will have first part of the chapter.


 

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

 

Russian-American negotiation on Aleppo and issues of combating terrorism in Syria (p.I of II).

Consideration of the problems of the settlement of the situation in East Aleppo is of independent value from the point of view of studying the process of searching for optimal formats for international interaction to solve the problem. It was this issue that was discussed, including through the prism of the implementation of the plan by S. de Mistura to withdraw the Jabhat al-Nusra militants from the city both by the «Lausanne Group» (Russia — US — Turkey — KSA — Qatar), and at the bilateral Russian-American level.

Despite the fact that in the second four years of B. Obama it was the American side that began the systematic destruction of the building and even the foundation of Russian-American relations [1], Moscow invariably expressed its readiness for interaction on issues of mutual interest. In particular, to cooperate in the field of combating terrorism in the framework of the initiative put forward by V.V. Putin, on the formation of a broad international antiterrorist coalition [2].

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Excerpt from the article of S. Ryabkov in the «International Affairs» magazine.

Therefore, despite the unprecedentedly low level of bilateral relations, Russia and the United States actively contacted in 2016. During the year, two meetings of the presidents took place, 14 rounds of negotiations between foreign ministries, including two visits by the Secretary of State to Moscow [3].

Consultations between Russia and the US on combating terrorism in Syria have become an important and contradictory milestone in the Syrian settlement. Diplomats and military men of the two countries discussed a whole range of issues in the framework of searching the ways out of the crisis in Syria — a political transition, the opening of humanitarian access, maintenance and monitoring of the cessation of hostilities and, finally, the modalities of possible joint actions to combat terrorism. At the same time the problem of Aleppo has evolved into an independent «direction» of negotiations. Washington, under the pressure of regional allies, could not agree on reaching agreements with Moscow on counter-terrorism in the face of a realistic prospect of returning to Damascus a large «stronghold of the opposition».

Let’s recall that in June-July 2016 the successful actions of Syrian government troops led to the transition of the «road of life» Castello, linking Turkey and the occupied quarters of the city, under the control of Damascus, and the situation for anti-government groups had deteriorated sharply. Under these conditions, the Americans, being under strong pressure from the part of the regional players (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar), as well as under pressure of the armed groups themselves, began to condition their steps in establishing counter-terrorism cooperation with Russia on unblocking the Castello route. This was the only opportunity for them to save the IAF in Aleppo. Reluctantly acknowledging the presence in the city of not only the «moderates» but also the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra (however, at the same time understating the figures at times), Washington actually did everything in its power to take out from under the strike all anti-Assad groups without exception.

In July 2016, at the request of the United States, «days of silence» were repeatedly introduced in Aleppo, which were always thwarted by militants. Groupings were in dire need of such «pauses». They could be used for rest and getting reinforcements and ammunition. At the same time, during the Russian-American meetings in the framework of the «Zurich format» [4], the Americans called with pressure to demilitarize the Castello road (it was proposed to make it «neutral») for the unhindered access of any transport to the eastern quarters. Moreover, if in the beginning it was a question of «humanitarian convoys for civilians» (the UN staff were actively involved in lobbying this subject), then, «with an amendment from the CIA» the Americans began to demand permission to pass through Castello any cargo without inspection. As the US President’s special envoy for Syria, M. Ratney «joked» during working contact with Russian diplomats, «any cargo means any, even if it is a nuclear weapon». As the saying is, in any joke there is some joke. The US delegation demanded that Moscow and Damascus voluntarily make a huge concession, to lose the large-blooded victory — the Castello route, paid for by the lives of many Syrian military and pro-government militias. Russia’s unwillingness to abandon an important strategic acquisition, obtained by blood and sweat, in exchange for the «promise» of the United States to strike jihadists in a coordinated manner, led in late July to another crisis in the Russian-American dialogue on the establishment of the Joint executive center for combating terrorism. The Americans then hinted that Moscow’s intractability might «cost it dearly».

Revenge did not take long. On July 31, 2016, terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, supported by all opposition groups without exception, moved to a large-scale offensive both from the outside of the «ring» (in the southwest of the city, from Khan-Tuman) and from the inside. As a result, in the area of Ramouse, the line of encirclement was broken. This operation resulted in large losses among military of the SAR Armed Forces (about 500 people were killed) and civilians (about a thousand). There is no doubt that this offensive was staged by Washington’s allies — Doha, Ankara and Riyadh, whom their American allies, in the conditions of a slippage of dialogue with Russia, gave carte blanche to intensify the fighting.

At the end of August, the breakthrough was eliminated at the cost of great efforts by the Syrian troops with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The militants were again surrounded, which prompted Washington to resume diplomatic activity. The Russian-American dialogue received a new impetus. The result was signed on September 9, 2016 in Geneva the agreement «Reducing violence, restoring access and establishing a Joint executive group», which ordered the introduction of a silence regime in Aleppo and the demilitarization of the Castello road — provided that the Americans finally divide the «moderates» and Jabhat al-Nusra. This agreement was also eventually disrupted, in particular, because of the massive violations by militants of the regime of the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, and also because of the strike of the US-led coalition on the positions of the Syrian government forces in the ISIS-surrounded Deir-ez-Zor (for more details on the provisions of the September agreement, see below).

Despite constant ceasefire violations by militants (in the US submission, the RCH [5] was disrupted by the «regime» — although there was no evidence, except for reports from social networks), Russian and American teams met daily at the Rapid Response Center in Geneva to discuss the situation «on the ground» and the development of measures to normalize the situation in Aleppo. Realizing that the control of Castello’s route is lost, the Americans, in an attempt to rescue a group of militants blocked in East Aleppo, demanded the full opening of the Ramouse road, which also linked the captured by IAF part of the city to Idlib province, where the main militant forces were concentrated.

Russia and the United States on September 16, 2016 even managed to agree on the draft document «Monitoring mechanism of the Ramouse road», according to which the opening of humanitarian access to Eastern Aleppo was implied. For this, two checkpoints were to appear on the Ramouse road: one — in the territory controlled by the government, the other — on the site captured by the opposition. The observation of the passage of goods was to be carried out by the Syrian Red Crescent Society.

The Americans sought to unblock the so-called «humanitarian» access to Eastern Aleppo with perseverance worthy of a better use. Their delegation directly linked generally the local issue of opening this or that road with a truly strategic goal: the beginning of the US and Russia joint strikes against terrorists. This showed that during the negotiations the Americans acted not independently, but in many respects from the submission of their regional allies, which were guided by the desire not to major geopolitical changes, but to protect «their own» forces «on the ground».

Negotiations reached an impasse on October 3, 2016. The Russian team presented the draft document «Reducing violence in Aleppo, comprehensive humanitarian aid to the peaceful population, establishing an effective cessation of hostilities and separation of the moderate opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra». The implementation of these agreements, if they would be achieved, would make it possible to translate into a practical phase the creation of a Joint executive center for combating terrorism.

It is characteristic that most of the Russian proposals took full account of US priorities (humanitarian assistance to the districts controlled by militants and the RHC). However, the third «footing» of this document, namely the division of Jabhat al-Nusra and the «moderates», literally became a «red rag» for Americans. Absolutely impassable for Washington in the Russian project was that the announcement of an indefinite ceasefire regime (which the Americans wanted so much) was strictly linked to the «satisfying results of the division with al-Nusra». That is, in order to get «silence», including in Aleppo, the United States should have been able to present concrete results of the work to dissociate the «correct» opposition from terrorists — which they could not achieve since February 2016 (when the CIA Director J. Brennan visited Moscow and gave a corresponding promise). Such a statement of the issue in the document was absolutely unacceptable for the United States. The reason is simple — Washington did not have enough resources to fulfill this obligation, because its influence on militants was insignificant, and the regional players through which the US pressed the anti-government groups did not always fulfill the American will, and sometimes even sabotaged it.

Well, it’s not so bad. The Americans also literally «stood to the death» on the issue of the synchronized withdrawal of government and opposition forces from the Castello road. Despite the fact that the relevant obligations were contained in the Russian-American agreements of September 9, the American side suddenly began to say that this withdrawal is no longer needed. Let, as they say, that humanitarian aid goes through government checkpoints. It all looked extremely suspicious. The provision on the demilitarization of Castello was more in line with the interests of Washington than of Moscow, because, with the exception of some «pockets», Castello was controlled by the Syrian government (see Map No. 6), and, therefore, it was supposed to withdraw its troops from the road.

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map No. 6 — The frontiers of the withdrawal of the Syrian government forces (red) and the militants (blue) from the road of Castello in accordance with the Russian-American agreements of September 9, 2016 // original map in Russian here.

The American delegation persistently reasoned that let all remain in their places. The Russian argument was simple: at the end of August the UN already tried to deliver a humanitarian convoy to Eastern Aleppo. Then the opposition (the so-called «local council») and the militants disrupted the humanitarian operation, threatening to destroy the trucks and arrest the drivers. Now it was impossible to allow anti-government groups to «get» the UN humanitarian caravans from the «pockets of resistance» in the Castello area.

However, there were deeper «calculations» behind the American position. Washington was simply unable to fulfill its obligation to remove the forces of the «opposition» from Castello. Firstly, because the carcass of this very «opposition» was the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, with whom the US had no official contacts (except for the CIA). Secondly, the Americans had no serious influence on other groups (Ahrar al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Liwa al-Islam, Sukur al-Jabal) that controlled small sections of Castello. Hence the answer to the question of why the US was ready to sacrifice even the advantageous for them position of the joint document. They did not have enough influence on the groupings «on the ground», which focused mainly on regional sponsors — Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Russia, insisting on the implementation of the item on the withdrawal of forces, to some extent also checked the capabilities of the Americans with regard to the fulfillment of previously undertaken obligations.

The head of the US delegation W. Wood in these conditions on October 3, 2016 informed the Russian team led by Major-General S.I. Gadzhimagomedov that the American side can’t accept the «new» demand of Moscow for the separation of Jabhat al-Nusra and the opposition as a precondition (although this requirement — as minimum, the need to determine the boundaries of the territory held by terrorists recognized by the UN Security Council, was fixed not only in Russian-American documents, but also in the Munich statement of ISSG on February 12, 2016 [6]). In this regard, the US delegation was forced to suspend the negotiations.

Why did Washington decide to withdraw from the dialogue with Moscow? The answer to this question is important in order to assess the potential of Russian-American cooperation for the settlement of the Syrian crisis already under the new administration, as well as competently distribute efforts through the line «US — regional players» to reach agreements on various aspects of the conflict resolution.

To do this, it is necessary to analyze the implementation by Moscow and Washington of the provisions of the Russian-American agreement of September 9, 2016. It will let to demonstrate the degree of influence of Russia and the United States on the forces under their control «on the ground», as well as on their allies. This, in its turn, is useful for determining the degree of stability of the emerging world order which has the features of polycentric dualism (two footings with a multiplicity of actors with varying degrees of influence). How much can it guarantee the fulfillment by all parties of the agreements reached in certain formats? How strong is the «disciplinary vertical» within the system where the two centers of power make decisions, the implementation of which depends not so much on them as on the allies who can pursue completely different interests in the region?

So, what did Russia do, and what did the US do to implement the agreement of September 9, 2016 [7]? Let’s consider by points:

1. Ensuring compliance with the cessation of hostilities.

Russia guaranteed the implementation of the ceasefire by the Syrian troops, «Hezbollah» and «Kods» units (the latter was not easy given the very tough position of Iran regarding achieving victory «in the field»). At that, this is about of both the RCH, announced by the Russian-American agreement of February 22, 2016, and the «renewed» ceasefire, which was proclaimed on September 12, 2016.

The United States handed Russia a list first of 47, then of 138 groups allegedly subscribed to the RCH. In fact, more than 20 of them continued active fighting. The result — 2031 violation of the «armistice» (and 302 of them were committed only in the period from 12 to 19 September 2016, when new ceasefire agreements began to operate) by the so-called opposition from February to September 2016, which resulted in 3,5 thousands of dead soldiers and officers of the Syrian army and 25,5 thousand civilians. Given that 2 groups from the American list belonged to ISIS, and 8 to Jabhat al-Nusra, it was incorrect to talk about their compliance with the RCH. And the United States failed to separate al-Nusra and the «moderates».

2. The fight against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Russia carried out up to 150 air strikes per day on the positions of ISIS and al-Nusra. Liberated 586 settlements (12,3 sq. km of territory). Destroyed 35 thousand terrorists, including 2,700 citizens of Russia and the CIS. The United States didn’t strike on the al-Nusra’s targets at all. As for ISIS, the coalition aviation carried out 6 to 15 strikes per day.

3. Monitoring compliance with the cessation of hostilities.

Russia established the Reconciliation Center in Khmeimim, sent its representatives to all Syrian provinces to oversee the «truce». Russian officers were seconded to the commanders of the armed forces of the SAR, and also were in contact with the governors. Russian Aerospace Forces allocated 70 UAVs to monitor compliance with the RCH. The Americans, while not having a presence on the ground, monitored the «truce» mainly with the help of social networks and the mass media.

4. The withdrawal of the warring parties from the Castello road for the escorting of humanitarian convoys along it and the creation of a checkpoints on the «government» and «opposition» section of the road for the inspection of humanitarian transport (see Map No. 7).

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map No. 7 — The scheme of the escorting of convoys along the Castello route through the checkpoints at the «government» and «opposition» sites in accordance with the Russian-American agreements of September 9, 2016 // original map in Russian here.

Russia ensured the withdrawal of Syrian government forces from Castello twice — on 15 and 16 September 2016. Also, a checkpoint was created with the participation of volunteers from the Syrian Red Crescent Society to inspect the trucks. The US did not do either. Perhaps, this is one of the key points that testify that Washington had no leverage to influence opposition groups. It is this commitment that has become a kind of litmus test for determining America’s influence on allies.

5. Delivery of humanitarian aid.

Russia secured the consent of the Syrian government to deliver humanitarian aid to Eastern Aleppo along the Castello road. The matter concerned the inspection of cargo by the UN monitoring mechanism, and then about the unhindered passage of waggons through government checkpoints (Damascus agreed in good faith to the Syrian military to check exclusively the safety of UN stamps, although, strictly speaking, Damascus had every right to insist on re-opening the cars). However, the UN humanitarian operation planned for the end of August in Eastern Aleppo was thwarted through the fault of the so-called «opposition». A number of structures — the «local council» of East Aleppo [8], the self-proclaimed «interim government» [9] (located in Turkish Gaziantep) and the coalition of factions «Fatah Halab» [10] rejected the delivery of cargo on the agreed Castello route, demanding the use of a terrorists-controlled Ramouse road, which would mean actually throwing the UN workers in front of bullets. Moreover, a terrorists thwarted the humanitarian pause announced on September 12 to deliver assistance to the city. It was also a flagrant fact of disruption of medical evacuation from Eastern Aleppo, for which Russia, at the request of the UN, announced the introduction of another humanitarian pause on October 20, 2016, as well as two days before (on October 18, 2016) unilaterally stopped airstrikes on the city. However, the Americans were unable to provide cooperation for the removal of the wounded and sick by the «opposition» they supervised. The so-called «local council» refused to provide the UN workers with lists of patients, demanding «in return» for humanitarian agencies to deliver «heavy» antibiotics and painkillers to the eastern quarters that were necessary for wounded militants. That is, opposition «doctors» openly traded the lives of their patients in order to obtain medical assistance for jihadists (this is described in detail above).

Thus, the analysis of the implementation of the Russian-American agreements testifies to the fact that the US did not want or could not realize the lion’s share of them. The question is they did not want or could not?

It seems that both. After all, where it was about the responsibility of the US, Washington was going to steps in the direction of building cooperation with Russia on counterterrorism. Thus, the Americans sent their team to the Genevan Russian-American Center for rapid response to violations of the cessation of hostilities in Syria. However, in August, as the «protest» against the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Forces in Aleppo, the American delegation skipped bilateral meetings, but the rest of the time regularly went to daily bilateral meetings, right up until the day of the disruption of the Russian-American dialogue on October 3. By the way, representatives of the American special services were very willing to contact the Russian side in discussing and comparing the maps of the location of terrorist groups, first of all Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo. Washington and Moscow also actively cooperated as two co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force.

There was also a mechanism for daily telephone contacts between the American Center in Amman and the Russian Center for the reconciliation of the warring parties in Khmeimim, during which representatives of military departments and special services exchanged assessments of the situation «on the ground» (this practice was suspended on July 28, 2016, then briefly resumed in September and was finally terminated after the closure of the dialogue). But when it came to implementing the obligations associated with the need to force the armed opposition to take some steps «on the ground», the Americans did not succeed. Washington failed to comply with almost any of the requirements related specifically to working with anti-government groups: compliance with the «truce», providing the Russian side with data on the disposition of «moderates» and terrorists, separating jihadists from the sane opposition, removing opposing forces from the Castello route and establishing a checkpoint there, the access of UN humanitarian convoys. There are several reasons.

Firstly, anti-government groups in Syria are guided by external sponsors from among the states of the region (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar). Of course, the Americans also tried to work independently with the militants. Thus, on September 3, 2016, the US special envoy M. Ratney, on the eve of the Russia-US agreement of September 9, addressed the armed groups with a letter explaining in detail the essence and meaning of the Russian-American agreements. Trying to justify the fact of concluding a deal with Russia, he explained to the militants why it is necessary to cooperate with Russians who «kill Syrians daily» [11]. It is important that M. Ratney expounded to the armed troops the obligations that were imposed on them in accordance with the Russian-American agreements. If we abstract from the very tendentious presentation by M. Ratney of the essence of forthcoming deal between Moscow and Washington, it becomes obvious that the American tried to «prepare» the opposition for the fact that it will have to fulfill the conditions laid down in the September 9 document. However, it was not possible to do this. Most groups publicly rejected the Russian-American deal, which only confirmed that the United States lacks the political resources to get concrete steps from the armed opposition forces «on the ground». Having provided Russia with a list of more than one hundred groups that supposedly joined the RCH, Washington was unable to indicate the points of their disposition, and most importantly, did not confirm that they pledged in writing to respect the truce. It is not surprising — there is almost no doubt that the troops reported this to M. Ratney either by phone or through sponsors, in order to avoid any specific obligations.

Secondly, the Americans did not work openly with Jabhat al-Nusra and tried at least externally to focus on «moderate opposition». In reality, however, the absolute majority of gangs operating primarily in the Aleppo area carried out military operations in close coordination with terrorists, which, even according to the UN, were the most effective and highly paid force.

As mentioned above, it was the US that decided to withdraw from negotiations with Russia on Syria, more precisely, on the de-escalation of the situation in Aleppo. However, the conjuncture that had developed by that time was by no means in Washington’s favor. The fact is that on September 17, 2016, the Air Forces of a US-led coalition striked on the positions of the Syrian army defending Deir-ez-Zor surrounded by ISIS. The result — more than 80 dead, 200 wounded. The terrorists took advantage of the favorable situation for them and launched an offensive. In particular, serious attacks were recorded in the industrial zone of Deir-ez-Zor with the use of tanks and jihad-mobiles. The seizure of this region would allow the militants to break the defending grouping of the SAR Armed Forces in two parts and gain a foothold on the bank of the Euphrates. Actually, this happened later, in January 2017, when as a result of the offensive in the airport area the ISIS militants seized several dominant heights and divided the «cauldron» into two parts.

Washington admitted that the strike on the Syrian government troops was a mistake [12]. As they said, the target, which either «gone» or was mistakenly identified, was tracked for more than a day. Meanwhile, the Syrian military reported that before the strike they heard the radio exchange between terrorists and unknown subscribers in English language. In general, there was a lot of «fog» around the incident. Thus, within two days before the tragedy, coalition UAVs flew over the terrain [13]. The strikes were made in three stages. Within an hour — along the front line of defense of the SAR Armed Forces. Destroyed military equipment: 3 tanks, 2 infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery system, cannon, mortar; defensive structures are completely destroyed. During the withdrawal of Syrian military from the positions, including wounded, they were struck with a UAV; at the same time, other drones were monitoring the government aerodrome. It is interesting that the helicopter of the SAR Air Forces at that time flying in the region was not attacked by ISIS. Perhaps it was mistaken for the «allied».

It was impossible to conceal the involvement of the coalition in the new «stab in the back» to those who opposed ISIS. The Russian military had technical control data indicating that a pair of Belgian fighter-bombers, as well as a US armed drone, carried out a missile-bomb strike on the target in Deir-ez-Zor.

This «mistake», which almost led to the fall of the «Syrian Stalingrad», discredited the Americans in the eyes of Russian partners and the world community. Washington broke the promise given to Damascus at the beginning of the air campaign in the sky of Syria that there will be no strikes against the Syrian government troop [14].

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Excerpt from a statement of M. Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, concerning an airstrike of the US-led coalition on positions of the army of the SAR in Deir-ez-Zor.

And taking into account the moment of the attack — the fifth day of implementation of the hard-won agreement of September 9, which in prospect provided for joint air operations against terrorists (but not in their support), — Washington faced a difficult choice. It was necessary either to admit the own failure in the implementation of the document (besides the attack in Deir-ez-Zor, by that time the US-controlled opposition was violating the RCH daily in cooperation with al-Nusra), or to use the time-tested tactics of «shifting the blame to others».

The US remained true to itself. And they did not admit their mistake. During the meeting of the UN Security Council, convened at the initiative of Russia to consider the airstrike at Deir-ez-Zor, the American permanent representative S. Power acted unprofessionally. She did not listen to her colleague V.I. Churkin, but instead went to reporters and threw a heap of claims against the Russian side. She stated, for example, that Russia’s initiation of a meeting of the UN Security Council is «a trick filled with moralism and window dressing, is especially cynical and hypocritical — even according to Russian standards» [15]. V.I. Churkin responded the same and did not listen to S. Power.

The incident was not settled by the mutual exchange of «courtesies».

The Americans launched a propaganda machine. Aggressive accusations against Russia and Syria of «violations» of the RCH fell as if from a cornucopia.

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map No. 8 — A map of the situation in the area of the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Urm al-Kubra (suburb of Aleppo), where the areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra are designated, as well as the areas of flights of American drones at the moment of attack.

The apogee was the hysterics around the «airstrike» at the humanitarian convoy of the Syrian Red Crescent Society in the village of Urm al-Kubra (Aleppo province, see Map No. 8). According to UN reports, 20 civilians who helped to unload wagons were killed, as well as a volunteer of the Syrian Red Crescent Society [16]. Photos of the burned trucks with the emblems of the Red Crescent began to be distributed on the Internet. UN officials as if on command condemned this crime: the UN Deputy Secretary-General S. O’Brien («I am disgusted and horrified» [17]), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon («a sickening, savage, and apparently deliberate attack» [18]), the head of the Independent Commission of Inquiry in Syria P. Pinheiro («a cruel blow to the Syrians» [19]).

At the same time, from the very beginning there were many «riddles» around the tragedy with the humanitarian convoy. Thus, it was not clear why the volunteers decided to send assistance to Aleppo exactly in the midst of a large-scale offensive of terrorists on the city, carried out in the south-west direction (i.e, at the scene of the incident). Moreover, it was «suggestive» of the fact that humanitarian workers from UN agencies were literally at the last moment instructed not to accompany the Red Crescent convoy for the first time — although this was contrary to their standard practice.

Naturally, the American press immediately began to promote the version about the involvement of the Russian Aerospace Forces or the Syrian Air Forces in the airstrike. It was reported with reference to US officials that a pair of Russian military aircraft SU-24 dropped bombs on the convoy [20]. Then the charges rose to a higher level — on September 21, 2016, Secretary of State J. Kerry accused Russia of destroying the humanitarian column [21].

pic_-_jkerry_rus_blame


Excerpt from Remarks at the Council Session on Syria by John Kerry. New York, 21 September, 2016.

The main thing is that the State Department said: because the airstrike at the convoy was «a terrible violation of the cessation of hostilities, the US will reassess the prospects for co-operation with Russia in the future» [22]. In general, Washington wisely used the tragedy of the destruction of the humanitarian convoy in order to shift the international community’s attention from the airstrike of the US-led coalition on Syrian government forces in Deir-ez-Zor, and to justify its decision to suspend negotiations with Russia on cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

At the same time, an attack on the UN humanitarian convoy deserves a special attention. Alas, the United Nations in hot pursuit failed to organize a process of clarifying the circumstances of the incident. The Secretary-General of the United Nations only on October 21, 2016, that is, almost a month after the tragedy, appointed an «independent» commission to investigate the circumstances of the destruction of the Red Crescent humanitarian convoy [23] (the members: one Indian citizen — General A. Guha, the rest — all «friends of Syria»: Great Britain, Canada, Bahrain, Morocco, Japan, Jordan).

Established by the UN Human Rights Council an independent commission of inquiry on Syria, which has never had access to the country, and therefore the ability to collect and analyze evidence, stated that the blame for the attack, it turns out, lies on the official Damascus.

pic_-_commission_inquiry_syria

According to the report of the commission of March 1, 2017, «the types of used ammunition, the area of the attacked zone and the duration of the attack convincingly indicate that it was carefully planned and ruthlessly carried out by the Syrian Air Forces to deliberately prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid and strike at humanitarian workers, which constitutes war crimes [24]». The commission’s accussation of Damascus of destroying the humanitarian convoy, while the Syrian government actively cooperated with UN humanitarian agencies, and Russian officers provided security for humanitarian convoys at checkpoints, sounded particularly cynical. Such unprofessionalism, the desire to play along to those who are interested in indiscriminately blaming Damascus in every way, refusal to analytically comprehend the facts — all this in the long run harms the reputation of the United Nations as a neutral player, undermines the already shattered confidence of the international community in the UN structures.

In this context, a record from a Russian military drone who escorted the convoy deserves attention. The fact is that according to the agreement with the UN, the group of the Russian Armed Forces monitored the security of most humanitarian operations carried out by the UN in the areas of military operations, including the convoy to Urm al-Kubra. The Russian UAV «escorted» a column of trucks through the front line right to the place of unloading, which began in the evening at dusk. The record, promulgated by the Ministry of Defense of Russia, showed that not only civilians were waiting for help. Immediately after passing the front line, the convoy of trucks began to be accompanied by jeeps with towed mortars of large caliber. The militants knew that the Russian Aerospace Forces, who have data on the route and monitor the movement, would not strike the humanitarian column. And they took advantage of the situation to pull up to the south-west direction (on that day a large-scale offensive was being prepared on this site) of additional weapons under the cover of a humanitarian column.

The moment of unloading did not hit the video, because after dark the UAV received a command to return to the base. At this point, almost simultaneously, the UN phones, Reuters news feed and other Western agencies began to receive information that the pro-opposition NGO «White Helmets» (whose «volunteer» at that time «accidentally» was in Urm al-Kubra) recorded a powerful air raid on the convoy. A video appeared in the Internet, where the «unidentified white-cap man» on camera accused Russia and Syria of attacking the convoy [25]. It’s amazing how easily a civilian could recognize the type of attack and the belonging of aircraft in the dark (later in the Western media they even spoke of helicopters and «barrel bombs»).

Immediately a Russian drone was sent back to the area of the incident. It was necessary to make sure that humanitarian workers really were attacked — because none of the aircraft of Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Forces was in the airspace above Urm al-Kubra in the specified period. The drone recorded about ten burning cars. In addition, it turned out that at the time of the attack the American armed intelligence UAV «Reaper» patrolled the air, later returning to the «Injirlik» air base (Turkey).

Let’s analyze the first pictures from the scene of the tragedy, published in various mass media under the guise of «evidence» of the crime of Russia and Syria. You don’t have to be a great specialist to understand: most of the pictures are staged, and the nature of the destructions does not correspond to the consequences of an airstrike by a standard ammunition (most often Russian Aerospace Forces uses in Syria aerial bombs FAB 250-270).

pic_-_photo3


photo No. 3 — A cab of a truck located in the «epicenter of the explosion» in Urm al-Kubra (there are no holes from the fragments).

Photo No. 3. A cab of a truck allegedly «located in the epicenter of the explosion» has no holes from the fragments. The only thing that suffered was the cargo that burned.

pic_-_photo5


photo No. 5 — The place of the tragedy in Urm al-Kubra — a clean roadway, without craters and traces of the explosion.

pic_-_photo6


photo No. 6 — For comparison — an asphalt road after an explosion of a FAB-250-270 type airbomb (Yemen).

On Photo No. 5, where the suffered trucks are located, we can see a perfectly clean roadway, without craters and traces of the explosion. For comparison, it is worth taking a look at the made in Yemen Photo No. 6 of the asphalt road after the explosion of the FAB 250-270 type airbomb — it can be seen that the road has been scratched and there are deep craters.

ALAFF remark: some search on the Internet, and we can have more pictures of the place of incident to better assess the degree of damage to the road from the «airstrikes». Rather, lack of damage. Well, that’s sure a new kind of «airstrikes» — they leave no holes, no deep scratches, no craters, no traces from fragments on the road. Different angles (different sites of the road) make it possible to see this:

Clear intact road after an «airstrikes». OK. Blast wave from this new kind of «airstrikes» has a really interesting characteristic — this wave affects one side of object, but do not damage the other side. In our case this is the road and two trucks — picture #3 above (with «White Helmets» logo): a cab of a truck on one side of the road is completely burnt while a cab of a truck on the other side of the road is intact (though its body is completely burnt too). By the way, no less interesting also the fact that not a single truck was thrown aside (at least a little) by a blast wave from an «airstrikes». Transport clearly stands each on its place, obviously where it was left.

pic_-_photo7


photo No. 7 — Instead of scattering from the explosion, the cargo remained in the crater. The white wall of the warehouse near the crater — there are no traces of fragments of «airbomb».

pic_-_photo8


photo No. 8 — For comparison — a photo from Yemen (the walls of a building after an explosion of airbomb near them).

In the photo reports from the scene of the incident there is only one photo with a crater — this is Photo No. 7. Despite the fact that cardboard boxes with humanitarian aid were supposed to be scattered from the epicenter of the explosion, they remained in their places. In case of an explosion, the cargo would be thrown to the walls of the warehouse. By the way, in this same picture it is worth paying attention to the absolutely white wall of the warehouse near the crater — there are not a single trace on it, or scratches from fragments of «air bomb». For comparison — Photo No. 8 from Yemen, where we can see how the walls look after the explosion of an air bomb near them. The difference is obvious.

And now we should pay attention to the crater. There are as if «indrawn» boxes with assistance in there. Instead of scattering from the explosion, the cargo, on the contrary, remained in the crater. There is clearly an unskillful attempt to fabricate the fact of a strike at the humanitarian convoy. For a spectacular photo, the organizers of the staging, forgetting about the laws of physics, threw the boxes marked with humanitarian agencies into the crater.

ALAFF remark: let’s consider TTC (tactical-technical characteristics) of the FAB-250 airbomb (info taken from here):

pic_-_fab250_bomb

we’re interested in the characterization of the damaged area(s), in particular, zone of severe damage — it is 28 meters for FAB-250 airbomb. Severe damage implies that there are significant deformations of load-bearing structures, destruction of most of the floors and walls. And now let’s take a look at the room where an explosion of «air bomb» allegedly occurred:

SYRIA-CONFLICT-AID

What is the distance from one wall (left, where is the refrigerator) to another (right, near which the boxes are lying)? Approximately 8-10 meters? And zone of severe damage for FAB-250 airbomb is 28 meters. So imagine what really would happen if FAB-250 airbomb would explode in this room. By the way, such an explosion, already powerful, would be strengthened by the fact that it is a closed room of a building, but not an open space. So these two pillars in the middle of the room (by the way, the «crater» is directly under one of the pillars) would no doubt have been turned to dust, both walls (left and right) would be seriously damaged, as well as the ceiling (not just slightly burnt in some places), and the boxes, of course, would have turned into burned scraps scattered all over the room.

There is also a photo of a box scratched with small fragments of a clearly non-shell explosive device, not by fragments of an air bomb or «air-to-surface» missile — Photo No. 4.

pic_-_photo4


photo No. 4 — The box is scratched by small fragments of a clearly non-shell explosive device, not airbomb or «air-to-surface» missile.

And here it is not superfluous to mention one detail again. It was in the case of the convoy to Urm al-Kubra on September 19, for the first time in the history of humanitarian operations the UN workers decided to not accompany the wagons chartered by the Syrian Red Crescent Society, which then came under fire. Only the Red Crescent staff went to Urm al-Kubra, and the UN staff for the first time received instructions not to participate in the humanitarian action. We can only guess who warned the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs under the leadership of British S. O’Brien about the forthcoming provocation

On the whole, given the fact that Urm al-Kubra was in an area controlled by a group recognized by the UN Security Council as terrorist, the probability of involvement of Jabhat al-Nusra or one of the affiliated groups in the destruction of the convoy was extremely high.

In general, the incident that occurred a few days after the strike by the aircraft of the US-led coalition on the positions of the SAR Armed Forces in Deir-ez-Zor area should be viewed through the prism of «cui bono» — whom does it profit? The tragedy in Urm al-Kubra «switched» the attention of the world media to the «war crime» allegedly committed by Russia and Syria against humanitarian workers, it was used by Washington to criticize Moscow and to justify the decision to suspend negotiations with the Russian side on October 3, 2016. After all, when Russia and the United States resumed the ceasefire within the framework of these agreements, 20 «moderate» opposition groups said they would not honor the truce. This is approximately 70% of people fighting on the side of the opposition, not counting Jabhat al-Nusra [26]. So Urm al-Kubra became a convenient «information occasion» which exempts the B. Obama administration from having to explain the reasons for Washington’s inability to implement the September 9, 2016 agreements.


[1] Ryabkov S. The Russian direction: the Obama administration leaves after itself just ruins / S. Ryabkov // International Affairs. 2016. December. P. 7.

https://interaffairs.ru/jauthor/material/1772

[2] 70th session of the UN General Assembly. Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York //

http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50385

English version here.

[3] Key foreign policy outcomes for 2016 //

http://www.mid.ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2580761

[4] The «Zurich format» — nonpublic Russian-American interdepartmental consultations on various aspects of the Syrian settlement, held regularly in 2016 in Switzerland.

[5] RCH — the Regime for the Cessation of Hostilities

[6] Statement of the International Syria Support Group. Munich, February 12, 2016 //

http://www.mid.ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2086375

[7] Comparative Analysis of Russia-US Agreement Implementation by the Parties. Russia’s MFA/MOD Paper. October 2016.

https://issuu.com/russiaun/docs/comparative_analisys_eng

[8] Aleppo Local Council. Statement #822. 24.08.2016

supposed to be this — https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cqsq5BIXEAARCeO.jpg:large

the image is taken from here.

[9] (written in Arabic) 25.8.2016

see a photo from the book here.

[10] (written in Arabic) 26.8.2016

see a photo from the book here.

[11] (written in Arabic) 2016

see a photo from the book here.

[12] US military admits it mistakenly targeted and killed loyalist Syrian forces // The Guardian. 2016. 29 November.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/29/us-military-airstrikes-mistake-syria-assad-deir-ez-zor

[13] UAV — unmanned aerial vehicles

[14] Statement and answers to media questions by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations V.I. Churkin following the results of the consultations of the UN Security Council on Syria in connection with the air strike of the coalition on positions of the Syrian army in Deir-ez-Zor. September 17, 2016. //

http://russiaun.ru/ru/news/sc_cas

[15] Remarks Before UN Security Council Consultations on Syria. Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. New York City. September 17, 2016 //

http://webtv.un.org/watch/samantha-power-usa-on-syria-security-council-media-stakeout-17-september-2016/5130062236001

[16] UN officials condemn attacks against aid convoy and ware house in rural Aleppo. 20 September 2016 //

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54969#.WCsCV_krLIV

[17] Syria: UN/SARC convoy hit in Urum al-Kubra, northwest of Aleppo city. 19 September, 2016. Statement by ERC Stephen O’Brien //

https://web.archive.org/web/20160920210239/http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/syria-unsarc-convoy-hit-urum-al-kubra-northwest-aleppo-city

[18] Secretary-General denounces deliberate attack on UN-SARC aid convoy. 20 September 2016 //

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54961#.WndvhClv6t8

[19] Independent International Commission Of Inquiry On The Syrian Arab Republic Statement on Convoy to Orum al-Kubra, Western Aleppo 20 September 2016 //

http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/79F0F43721690B68C125803400569DF7?OpenDocument

[20] Russian planes dropped bombs that destroyed UN aid convoy, US officials say // The Guardian. 2016. 20 September

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/20/un-aid-convoy-attack-syria-us-russia

[21] Remarks at the Council Session on Syria. Remarks John Kerry, Secretary of State, United Nations Headquarters. New York City. September 21, 2016 //

https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/09/262235.htm

[22] Heather Nauert‏: The United States is outraged by reports that a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed near Aleppo today //

http://twitter.com/statedeptspox/status/778038710805946368/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

[23] Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Syria Board of Inquiry. New York. 21 October 2016.

https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2016-10-21/statement-attributable-spokesman-secretary-general-syria-board

[24] Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Human Rights Council. Thirty-fourth session. February 27 — March 24, 2017, item 4 of the agenda. Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention. The UN document. A/HRC/34/64. P.2.

enter A/HRC/34/64 in the «Symbol» field here and click Search,

or download the Document here (right click — save as).

[25] Aftermath of Airstrike on Syria Aid Convoy — Video //

https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/sep/20/syria-aftermath-of-airstrike-on-un-aid-convoy-video

[26] Statement and answers to media questions by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations V.I. Churkin following the results of the consultations of the UN Security Council on Syria in connection with the air strike of the coalition on positions of the Syrian army in Deir-ez-Zor. September 17, 2016. //

http://russiaun.ru/ru/news/sc_cas

see footnote #14.

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