Aleppo. War and diplomacy. P-VII

Previous parts of the book:

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


Again, a few basic rules:

ALAFF is going to post the whole translation by parts. In this post you will have seventh part — «A «narrow group» of interested states — a multipolarity or polycentric dualism?«. 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


A «narrow group» of interested states — a multipolarity or polycentric dualism?

After the failure of the Russian-American talks on October 3 and the inability of Moscow and Washington to reach an agreement on the settlement of the situation in Aleppo, the bilateral track was frozen for some time. The US, explaining its decision to withdraw from the dialogue, began to blame Russia for the fact that it was through her fault, they said, that it was not possible to reach a compromise. They said, Moscow «at the last moment» put forward impracticable conditions (the point is that the Russian delegation conditioned the cessation of air strikes in Eastern Aleppo by Washington’s fulfillment of its obligations to separate Jabhat al-Nusra and the «moderates» — so that the «pause» in bombing was not used by terrorists for regrouping and receiving reinforcements, but served to separate terrorists and the «correct» opposition, on the existence of which the Americans insisted). According to the Washington politicians, it was this that made it impossible to achieve the deal. On the Russian side, it was pointed out that any potential agreements on joint fight against terrorism in the SAR lost meaning in conditions when the United States did not fulfill its main promise — to separate Jabhat al-Nusra from the «moderates». Washington wanted us to stop the airstrikes in Eastern Aleppo, where terrorists were entrenched, while not wanting to separate these same terrorists and US-controlled detachments. In the end, there was a paradoxical situation: the Americans demanded that Russia stop fighting terrorists as a precondition for… starting a joint fight against terrorism. In this case, Moscow could also require Washington to freeze the operation to liberate Iraqi Mosul from ISIS, which was conducted with the active participation of Americans, and where, according to the same Western human rights activists, civilians died as a result of airstrikes by a US-led coalition [1].


Amnesty International report on situation in Mosul, 28 March 2017.

It is interesting how the international community met the news that Russia and the United States could not come to an agreement. Probably the best definition that characterizes the reaction, especially of the members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), — a confusion. This was well manifested during the first meetings of the Task Forces on the Ceasefire and Humanitarian Access in Geneva on October 13, 2016. Earlier, the Russian-American co-chairmanship «framed» the discussion, enabling states to «freely» express their views (in most cases with such a country group composition — to criticize Russia), as if delegating responsibility for their words to one of the co-chairs (read — the US) and «hiding» behind him. But during the first meetings after the failure of the Russian-American dialogue, the speeches of all members of the ISSG were of a confused nature. Where has the militant russophobia gone? Instead of criticism of «Russia and the B. Assad regime», the ISSG member-countries expressed regret about the inability of Moscow and Washington to reach an agreement on Aleppo and start cooperation in Syria, as well as the hope that Russian-American contacts will be renewed in the near future.

As for the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Syria, his reaction was painful. In the statement, S. de Mistura expressed «deep regret at the fact that the Russian-American ceasefire negotiations in Aleppo, in particular, and in Syria in general, failed to achieve a positive outcome» [2]. As we know, with the start of the dialogue between Moscow and Washington, the Special Envoy was betting precisely on the ability of the two countries to reach an agreement on Syria and believed that the collective work on the settlement of the Syrian crisis (moreover, its both military, and political and humanitarian aspects) should be built around this agreement.

At the same time, despite the sediment that remained with the two ISSG co-chairs due to the inability to reach a compromise on joint counter-terrorist operations in Syria, both Russia and the US showed common sense and prevented the collapse of the «architecture» of the multilateral diplomacy which was formed within the framework of the International Syria Support Group. Not only the ISSG itself was saved, but its working bodies as well — the Ceasefire and Humanitarian access Task Forces. However, if everything was more or less simple with the Humanitarian Group, the situation with the Ceasefire Group was more complicated. In was in the work of this structure, the confrontation between Russia and the US (as guarantors of the cessation of hostilities regime, announced in February 2016) was especially acute, and the most heated discussions on the situation «on the ground» were held within its framework. A dilemma arose whether to save this structure, even if the status of the regime of the cessation of hostilities in Syria after the failure of the Russian-American talks is questionable? The American delegation in Geneva, headed by Ambassador W. Wood, received instructions: both Task Forces should be retained, but their «profile» in these Task Forces should be reduced. The Russian team proceeded from the assumption that the current problems in the Russian-American dialogue are anyway temporary, and sooner or later everything will return to the issue of strengthening / restoring the truce. In this connection, there was no point in destroying the already functioning ISSG institutions. It was important to keep the situation under control.

The preservation of ISSG structures was the right decision. The pause in the Russian-American interaction was obviously temporary. The continuation of the functioning of both the International Syria Support Group and its working bodies has preserved the «carcass» of international cooperation in resolving the Syrian crisis and provided an opportunity to search for new formats of cooperation to which the world community was pushed by a life itself, primarily by the continuation of bloodshed in Syria.

Despite the suspension of the Russian-American dialogue on Syria, contacts between diplomats of the two countries continued, including within the same Task Forces in Geneva, as well as in New York, Washington, and Moscow. Practically every day there were telephone conversations between S.V. Lavrov and J. Kerry (although the Secretary of State sometimes showed shyness with regard to making the communication of ministers public, so press releases on these calls were not always published at the request of the American side).

However, the current circumstances related to the failure of Washington to fulfill its obligations under the Russian-American agreement of September 9, 2016, opened the possibility for more active involvement in the dialogue on Syria of countries that had a real influence «on the ground». In this regard, in one of the phone conversations S.V. Lavrov reminded J. Kerry about the idea of organizing contacts within the so-called «narrow group» of interested states that have levers of influence on the situation «in the field». The Secretary of State became interested in this and promised to work out the possibility of such a meeting. At the same time, he proposed «criteria» for the right to be present at such negotiations. The first is direct participation in the Syrian conflict on the ground or in the air. The second is the support of the forces and groups fighting in Syria. Such a methodology for selecting the «narrow group» member-countries definitely had some logic. In accordance with it, the following format was emerging: Russia, the United States, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Here it is worth paying tribute to the Americans, first of all, the same J. Kerry, who in fact alone have achieved the consent of all the regional states to come to a meeting of the «narrow group».

The first meeting of the «narrow group» was held on October 15, 2016 in Lausanne.

It took time to determine a composition of negotiators. Thus, the Iranian Foreign Minister M. Zarif for a long time could not get permission to visit Lausanne from the supreme leader of the country A. Khamenei. As a result, he declared his readiness to participate in this meeting only if the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Iraq would be invited too. In response, Saudi Arabia insisted that Jordan be invited. Russia, for its part, has ensured that the United Nations takes part in the negotiations (Secretary-General’s Special Envoy S. de Mistura). So the format was «nine plus» (9 countries + UN).

The conversation in the course of the Lausanne meeting on October 15, 2016, in contrast to the useful, but still tending to polemic the ISSG meetings, was very frank. The conversation was built around the initiative put forward on October 6 by S. de Mistura to evacuate Jabhat al-Nusra militants from Eastern Aleppo while maintaining the «local council» as the governing body in the city [3]. In this way, the negotiations had a specific agenda, the implementation of which was in the hands of the participating countries.

J. Kerry, along with the Saudi, Qatari and Turk insisted that first thing to do is to stop airstrikes on Eastern Aleppo and ensure a ceasefire. Only in these conditions, they say, it will be possible to make efforts to separate terrorists and «moderates». In response, Russia and Iran, with the support of Egypt, put forward a demand, as a first step, to force the armed groups controlled by the Americans and the region states to drive al-Nusra out of the city and subscribe to the regime for the cessation of hostilities. There should not be a repetition of the situation when the US conditioned its long-standing obligations to separate the «moderates» and al-Nusra by preconditions like the seven-day «silence». To reinforce its position, the Russian delegation distributed the material with a list of those illegal armed formations that operated in Aleppo along with al-Nusra, such was the majority. It is significant that the Saudi, Qatari and Turk, and even J. Kerry, were shirking to answer the question who of them takes care of this or that grouping from the list.

As a result of complex and lengthy discussions, Russian diplomats have achieved an understanding that al-Nusra problem must be solved in priority order. The Saudis and Turks promised to urgently send a signal to their «ward» factions to break off any contacts with terrorists and demand their withdrawal from East Aleppo. Then there will be a common understanding, where in the city is al-Nusra, and where is «moderates», and it will be possible to call on the government and the opposition to declare a humanitarian pause.

The radicals in this case would have two options — to leave (in accordance with the plan of S. de Mistura) or to be destroyed. It is characteristic that no specific public announcements following the meeting were made at the insistence of the Saudis. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KSA, A. Jubeir, expressed a certain skepticism about the prospects for implementing the agreements and asked not to announce anything.

It’s curiously that after the meeting in Lausanne, the Americans tried to justify themselves for their participation in the event, where Russian diplomats were present. State Department spokesman J. Kirby said at the press conference that the US «is not ready to sit down at the same table with the Russians and conduct any serious discussions on the situation in Syria» [4].


Excerpt from the US Department of State’s Spokesperson John Kirby statement to CNN, 18 October, 2016.

It is clear that such statements were primarily aimed at domestic political consumption, namely, at the «hawks» in Washington, which were against the resumption of any contacts with Russia and tracked any «movements» of J. Kerry with a steadfast gaze worthy of other important for the US plots. In this way, J. Kirby tried as if to justify himself in advance to the opponents of cooperation with Moscow, assuring that the bilateral format was frozen and now it is only a matter of multilateral negotiations. The Russian side reacted calmly and even philosophically to such rushing searchings.

On the other hand, not in public statements, but in reality Washington adhered to a highly pragmatic approaches. Thus, J. Kerry, during the meeting in London on October 16, 2016, with the core of the «Syria friends group» (USA, France, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) called the Lausanne event a «success», because it, he said, allowed to return Russia and the regional states to the negotiating table to discuss specific obligations. It is curious that the Secretary of State mentioned Moscow’s demand to separate Jabhat al-Nusra and «moderate» opposition, as if sending a signal to his allies that they will have to fulfill this obligation in one way or another.

In this way, it was the pause in the Russian-American dialogue that made it possible to organize a meeting in a format that unites the countries directly involved in the Syrian crisis. It is characteristic that during the negotiations S.V. Lavrov and J. Kerry in one way or another were «soloists». However, it is important that the necessary «signals» were heard by the regional players. This is confirmed by the fact that already on October 19-20, 2016 in Geneva, representatives of Russia, the United States, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia discussed the necessary steps to address the problem of Eastern Aleppo and even agreed on a draft document («Proposals on Eastern Aleppo») containing specific obligations of the parties. There were also subsequent rounds of negotiations. «Red lines» of Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not hard to guess — the withdrawal of Shiite formations and the preservation of opposition structures («local councils») as local self-government bodies.

The liberation of East Aleppo and the evacuation of militants and civilians from the city in December 2016 made it irrelevant for further discussion of this problem in the format of a «narrow group» (as well as bilaterally with the Americans). However, the discussions on Aleppo with the participation of the regional players served as a statement that it is time for deep involvement of the countries of the region in the development of serious, breakthrough, and, most importantly, realistic solutions to some of the problematic aspects of the Syrian crisis. This is not someone’s whim, but a demand dictated by the logic of the evolution of the modern world order, which more clearly bears the features of «polycentric dualism». Russia and the United States will continue to be able to play a «guiding» role, and to determine the main vector of interaction of all interested players. However, this should be done with the participation or, at least, taking into account the positions of the regional players, without which we can not count on the implementation of taken decisions.

The appearance of the «Astana» format and the announcement on December 30, 2016 of the introduction of a ceasefire regime in Syria with guarantees from Russia, Turkey and Iran confirm the tendency to diversify the participants in the decision-making process on key aspects of the Syrian settlement, which in turn is the result of objective processes of redistribution of power from the center to the periphery as a characteristic of the emerging polycentric world order.

[1] Iraq: Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul / Amnesty International. 28 March 2017 //

[2] U.N. Syria envoy ‘deeply regrets’ suspension of U.S./Russia talks / Reuters. 3 October 2016 //

[3] Transcript of the Press-Conference by UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, and UN Senior Adviser, Mr. Jan Egeland, Geneva, 6 October 2016 //

[4] CNN Transcripts. State Department on Russia’s Halting Airstrikes in Aleppo. Aired October 18, 2016 — 07:30 //


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