Aleppo. War and diplomacy. P-X

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 tenth part — «Lessons of Aleppo»: geopolitics of the Syrian crisis in the context of the transforming world order«. Text may 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).

This is the final part of 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


«Lessons of Aleppo»: geopolitics of the Syrian crisis in the context of the transforming world order.

The victory of the Armed Forces of the SAR with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces in the battle for Aleppo should be considered not only from the point of view of military significance (establishing control of the Syrian government over the settlement strategically important for the defense of militants, with the infliction of significant damage to the extremists in manpower and technology), but also from the point of view of changes in the geostrategic landscape that occurred after the liberation of the eastern districts of the city.

The methods by which it was possible to resolve the problem of Eastern Aleppo, first of all, the bet on active contacts with the countries of the region, allow us to talk about some features of the modern system of international relations, which is currently in the period of transformation from unipolarity (or, as some domestic researchers believe, «pluralistic unipolarity «[1]) to polycentricity.

Indeed, the Aleppo issue has become a kind of testing ground for testing various negotiating formats within the changing world order. A special, largely leading role here belonged to Russia. After the failure of the Russian-American talks on Syria and, in particular, on Aleppo, Moscow decided to bet on the settlement of the problem directly in contact with the regional players. And this measure justified itself. Russia, in cooperation with Turkey and Iran, found upshots that allowed the issue to be solved effectively and with minimal losses. Moreover, direct cooperation with the regional players, without intermediaries, provided an opportunity to quickly approach the solution of a number of more ambitious tasks in the context of the Syrian settlement — and this is exactly what Moscow unsuccessfully tried to achieve within a year in a dialogue with the B. Obama administration. Thus, the confidence potential accumulated during the operation to evacuate militants and civilians from East Aleppo and expressed itself in the generally concerted actions of forces «on the ground» controlled by Russia, Turkey and Iran, made it possible to raise cooperation in the «troika» to a new level. The result is the establishment of a regime for the cessation of hostilities throughout the country, the appearance of the Astana format, regular meetings of warring parties at the negotiating table (for the first time since the beginning of the Syrian crisis [2]), the development of measures to restore confidence and facilitate humanitarian access, the restart of the inter-Syrian dialogue in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations on February 23, 2017. Thus, the solution of the problem of Eastern Aleppo became a prologue to intensify the work on the de-escalation of the situation «on the ground» and the political-diplomatic settlement of the conflict in Syria.

Already now we can say that the format of the solution to crises directly in contact with the region states has obvious advantages. It provides an opportunity quite easily, as the saying is, to reach the «pain point». Understanding the interests of the countries of the region, keeping in mind not only long-term, but immediate goals related to specific projects «on the ground» (they often have an «emotional-historical» character), one can find and offer creative, non-standard solutions that, in the current situation, may seem attractive to the regional players. Direct «access» through the countries of the region to forces and groups that control specific territories, increases the chances of implementing taken decisions. This gives an advantage over the situation when the regional states are used only to mediation in the implementation of agreements reached without their participation (as was the case with the Russian-American agreements of September 9, 2016).

At the same time, the conflict resolution format directly in interaction with the region states has its own weak sides. The states of the region are sensitive to ensuring their interests «in the field», they are often not ready to make serious concessions, which will mean demonstrating the «weakness» of the forces under their control «in the field» and the loss in certain momentary combinations. Maneuvering between fundamental interests of the countries of the region, often seeking to settle accounts with each other, while simultaneously building the steps to achieve long-term geopolitical advantages — a task that carries many risks. The found solutions to various aspects of the crisis, no matter how «breakthrough» they seemed at first glance, may have a short-term nature, contribute to the settlement of a specific situation, but not the crisis as a whole. Thus, the foreign policy conjuncture at the time of reaching agreements on Eastern Aleppo has developed in such a way that it has allowed to solve this serious, but at the same time «local» problem within the framework of Russian-Turkish interaction with the connection of Iran. However, contrary to some forecasts, it did not put an end to the Syrian confrontation.

This format has limits, connected with the fact that it is extremely difficult for the regional players to abandon active support of the forces oriented to them «in the field» (what the Americans easily did). For all the non-binding character of B. Obama’s team, the instability and variability of its foreign policy guidelines [3], Syria was for the United States a matter that did not directly affect US interests. And if Russia (and Iran) displayed readiness for some concessions / exchanges, the US could well have taken steps that would weaken the positions of the forces they patronize on this or that sector of the front. For the US, unlike the regional players, this was not an existential issue.


G. Gatilov: The United States is constantly changing its position on Syria. (see footnote #3)

Interaction between Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, no matter now breakthrough and effective it may seem, can not automatically be «copied» to the general canvas of the Syrian settlement. It is hardly possible to resolve the complex Syrian crisis through the cooperation of one «great power» (using the Yalta-Potsdam terminology) with one or two countries of the region. Thus, earlier it was not possible to find a solution on the «local» problem of Aleppo, relying solely on the Russian-American format — in the absence of players who controlled the groups that fought with the government of the SAR.

Thus, we should not idealize the methodology of resolving certain aspects of the Syrian crisis exclusively in direct contacts with the regional players. There’s still a need of «testing» of the relevant tools, both in Syria and in other conflict places.

Advantages and disadvantages will manifest themselves over time. Only then it will be possible to judge the effectiveness of the corresponding mechanisms, as well as determine the need for their adaptation / reform.

Here it is necessary to say a few words about the role of Russia and the United States in the Syrian settlement. Moscow and Washington had a special, «disciplining» function in supporting discussions on various aspects of the Syrian «dossier,» primarily in the framework of the International Syria Support Group, where Russia and the United States are co-chairs.


photo 2 — Meeting of the Task Force on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, co-chaired by Russia and the United States (Geneva, 2016).

Important decisions were reached during the Russian-American talks. However, Washington was unable to ensure their implementation, which, in fact, motivated Russia to search for new formats and contributed to the launch of the «Astana platform». Washington has yet to find its place in this «young» and still very unstable dialogue architecture.

At the same time, it seems that Russian-American cooperation can still become an «umbrella» for a Syrian settlement. It is not so much about specific problems «on the ground» as about the geopolitical dimension.

Firstly, the potential powerful unifying factor is the fight against terrorism. If Moscow and Washington begin to jointly oppose ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, this will become a serious signal for the regional states. Sponsors of militants from among the countries of the Middle East will at least have to take effective measures to separate their wards from terrorists, with whom many of the groups operating in Syria continue to actively cooperate. This measure encourages «moderate» detachments to adhere to the ceasefire, will motivate them to participate more actively in the political process (field commanders can be involved in negotiations on such matters as strengthening the ceasefire regime, exchanging prisoners, other measures to restore confidence, integration into Syrian armed forces, etc.). Involvement of warring troops in Syria in the political process will certainly affect the configuration of confrontation «on the ground» and will change the dynamics of the conflict.

Secondly, Russia and the United States could also cooperate in determining common parameters for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis, including agreements on the future power structure of Syria. At the same time, the direction of Syrian statehood reform must necessarily take into account the concerns of key players in the region, including Turkey, to reflect the balance of interests between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps, it may be necessary in some form of Russian or Russian-American mediation between Tehran and Riyadh to identify the contours of compromise. The agreement on the parameters of Syrian statehood between the two antagonists of the region (following the example of Lebanon) with the assistance of Moscow and Washington could become a strong foundation for the Syrian settlement (in the opinion of the author, the «road map» approved by UN Security Council resolution 2254 is divorced from the Syrian realities). Russia and the United States in this case could be guarantors of relevant political agreements. Unfortunately, the mood of the administration of D. Trump to build up pressure on Tehran makes it difficult for the near future the organization of a dialogue on Syria between Iran and KSA under the Russian-American mediation.

In other words, the Russian-American cooperation on Syria has serious potential. And it is necessary to implement it at this stage in decisions of major geostrategic issues. As in its time, Moscow and Washington reached historic agreements on the removal and destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, preventing the power scenario of the changing of the ruling regime in the SAR, and now the joint struggle of Russia and the United States against terrorism will seriously affect the dynamics of the situation in Syria and the region . That is why Moscow is convinced that all the developments and mechanisms that have been created or are planned to be launched in the course of negotiations with the US deserve to be preserved, further improved and developed [4].

In general, there are doubts that the world order — at least in the coming years — will become truly multipolar, that is, containing equivalent elements interacting in strict rules and observing «discipline». There is also no evidence that the «great powers» (in the Syrian context — Moscow and Washington) will be able or will want to take unconditional leadership in solving problems in the region. Most likely, it will be that within the framework of regional crises, specific configurations «on the ground» will de facto determine formats in which it is possible to seek solutions to certain aspects of conflicts.

This means that in the near future the system of international relations will remain unstable, characterized by a low «immunity» to external stimuli. This can lead to its significant imbalance, which will provoke the intensification of transboundary global threats, primarily terrorist ones.

In these circumstances, Russian diplomacy requires on the one hand a combination of consistency in promoting a principled position on the key subjects of the international and regional agenda, and on the other hand a maneuverability, willingness to promptly find non-standard and effective solutions using available military-diplomatic, information and other methods. This will allow resolving regional conflicts, opening the way to international cooperation to restrain common challenges and threats. Moreover, this will help to consolidate Russia’s role as one of the key elements of the emerging polycentric world order.

[1] Bogaturov A. Modern international order / A. Bogaturov // Modern international relations and world politics / Ed. A.V. Torkunov. Moscow: MGIMO, 2004

[2] The government of the SAR and the opposition earlier once faced each other during the opening of the International Conference on Syria in Montreux in January 2014. However, these were «politicians» — while in Astana, for the first time, those who fought «on the ground» with weapons in their hands gathered.

[3] Gatilov: The United States is constantly changing its position on Syria. September 22, 2016. //

[4] Borodavkin calls for preserving all mechanisms for cooperation on Syria 09.02.2017 //


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