ALAFF is posting an english translation of the new book of Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva — an acting russian diplomat, an employee (press-attaché, third Secretary) at the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN in Geneva. The book «Aleppo. War and diplomacy» has been released in June 2017, so this is new and fresh book with information of current interest.
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva is the author of several more books. In 2015 she wrote/released a book «On the right side of the history. The Syrian crisis» (ISBN 978-5-373-07383-7), and in 2013 she wrote/released a book «Libyan lesson. End justifies the means?» (ISBN 978-5-373-05077-7). She is also a guest (not very often but still) of television and radio broadcasts, as well as an author of articles on international issues in periodicals.
«Aleppo. War and diplomacy» is quite important and interesting book. It was written following the footsteps of recent Syrian events, in particular the liberation of the city of Aleppo by the forces of the Syrian army and Russian Aerospace Forces (as well as by other allies of course, like Iran forces or paramilitary political movement of Hezbollah, and others).
Translation of the book is ALAFF’ author’s translation. 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. At the bottom of the page are footnotes.
In some places there may be a personal ALAFF’ comment — in this case 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).
>> Aleppo: War and Diplomacy. The geopolitics of the Syrian crisis in the context of the transformation of the system of international relations <<
2017 | ISBN 978-5-00111-116-0
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
- 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 (part 1 + part 2)
- 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
«In the monograph «Aleppo: War and Diplomacy» M.S. Khodynskaya-Golenischeva in detail and objectively set out the dramatic events associated with the liberation of Eastern Aleppo, captured by militants of terrorist organizations. It was a unique operation, during which the Russian Aerospace Forces supported the Syrian Armed Forces.
The author reveals the course of complex negotiations on the settlement of the Aleppo crisis, including the behind-the-scenes negotiations, which took place in various formats — Russian-American, as well as with participation of key countries of the region and the UN. The special value of the work is that the author personally participated in these consultations. This allows her to give objective assessments, in particular, about the role of the UN in solving humanitarian problems faced by the population of this city.
The book contains a large amount of exclusive material and can be useful to anyone who is interested in the Middle East issues and international relations, especially in the extremely difficult period of time that the Middle East region is undergoing.»
— Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, G.M. Gatilov
«A special value is that the author is not limited to the enumeration of facts, but considers it from the point of view of military-political and historical significance for the settlement of the Syrian conflict. Excerpts from the documents presented in this book, a detailed description of the non-public negotiation process involving the United States, Turkey and major regional powers, as well as the assessment of the Russian military group in Syria will be extremely interesting and useful not only for specialists in the Middle East, but for all who are interested in the history of the Syrian conflict and military-political issues in general.»
— Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, Colonel General S. Rudskoy
You hold in your hands a new monograph of a young Russian diplomat and a scientist, candidate of historical sciences Maria Sergeyevna Khodynskaya-Golenischeva. This book is devoted to the recent dramatic events that unfolded in Syria around Aleppo — the second largest city in this country. Then — at the end of 2016 — the Armed Forces of the SAR with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces liberated the eastern part of Aleppo from the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra and the groups affiliated with them.
The crisis connected with Aleppo developed not only as a military operation, but also on various diplomatic platforms. It was the denouement of the «Aleppo’s Knot» that gave impetus to the search for an algorithm for the settlement of the Syrian conflict as a whole, with the participation of both the Syrians themselves and international mediators. Negotiations and consultations were conducted in an active mode in the line of the Russian-American tandem, in the Lausanne format with the involvement of the United Nations and influential regional players, in the International Support Group of Syria and its working bodies. The most important factor contributing to the unblocking of the Aleppo confrontation was the work «on the ground» of the Russian Center for the reconciliation of warring parties to save the peaceful population of the city from the terrorists who ruled the roost there, and provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens.
The result of all these efforts was the launching of successful Russian-Turkish-Iranian negotiations in Astana with the invitation of the delegations of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and armed opposition groups to introduce in the entire Syrian territory a ceasefire and a number of other measures for the political settlement of the Syrian conflict.
The book provides an in-depth analysis of the discrepancies in the positions of key states on the issues of combating terrorism in Syria. These contradictions, in particular, were clearly manifested between Russia and the United States. Washington’s line to use Jabhat al-Nusra against the legitimate government of the SAR has caused the impossibility of implementing the already achieved Russian-American agreements on uniting the efforts of the two countries to destroy terrorists in Syria.
The results and lessons of this diplomatic work are relevant even today in the light of the statements of the new US Administration that the fight against international terrorism is its most important foreign policy priority.
Russia’s position on the issues of the Syrian settlement is fully disclosed. On the example of the liberation of Eastern Aleppo and the humanitarian operations conducted there, Moscow’s principled approach is shown both in terms of an uncompromising fight against terrorism and compliance with universally recognized norms and principles of international humanitarian law.
The work also highlights in general the positive role of the UN in the Aleppo events. At the same time, the attempts of external players to put the World Organization at the service of their unsightly goals are shown, to connect UN to an unscrupulous information campaign to blacken Russia’s actions in support of the efforts of the Syrian Government in the fight against terrorism.
The author of the book is not just a researcher, but an acting diplomat working on Syrian issues from the very beginning of the conflict in the SAR. She took part both in bilateral and multilateral negotiations described in the monograph, and in cooperation with the UN on various aspects of the Aleppo and — more widely — Syrian «dossier». In this regard, the monograph contains not only an academic analysis of the events that took place around Aleppo, but also assessments stemming from personal experience of work on Syria, as well as practical considerations regarding the alignment of our foreign policy line on the Syrian problem, including the contours of the political process of the conflict settlement in SAR.
I recommend reading this monograph to anyone who is interested in the development of the situation in the Middle East, modern international relations, including the Russian-American «cut», issues related to the fight against terrorism, the role of the United Nations in Syrian affairs, and the political process of resolving the crisis in the SAR.»
— Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, A.N. Borodavkin
«The book by Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva is the first analytical work in Russian scientific literature dedicated to the dramatic events of 2016 in and around Aleppo. Personal experience of the author’s active participation in acute diplomatic battles of that period, complementing her excellent knowledge of all the vicissitudes of the situation on the battlefields, makes this book a must-read for all who are professionally engaged or simply interested in the problems of the Middle East and the Syrian crisis. The author’s — a young talented researcher and diplomat — immersion in the details of the battle for Eastern Aleppo, which liberation had a special significance for the future of Syria, did not prevent her from reaching broad theoretical generalizations. They concern the regional and global context of local events, their relationship with the transformation of the modern system of international relations, new trends in the settlement of armed conflicts and countering terrorism. The book successfully reveals many aspects of Russia’s multifaceted activities to resolve the Syrian crisis.»
— Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Scientific Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, V.V. Naumkin
Aleppo, the second largest city in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), the economic capital of the country, in the past — bourgeoisie’s «bastion» located about 120 kilometres from the Turkish-Syrian border, became one of the symbols of the internal armed conflict in the SAR. The battle for Aleppo has been extensive — and not only «on the ground», but also on the diplomatic field. The opposing sides understood that setting a control of this strategically important locality by the Syrian government forces would be a major turning-point in the war. This, of course, could not have been allowed by the sponsors of the anti-Assad armed groups, who spended a large financial, political, military and propaganda resources to the overthrow of the Syrian regime.
Aleppo became the main item on the agenda of the Syrian consultations — as in the bilateral Russian-American format and as a part of the so-called «narrow group» of interested states. While active fighting continued «on the ground», diplomats and military from Russia and the US tried to solve the problem of Aleppo at the negotiating table. Later their colleagues from the countries of the region were added to them. The Aleppo issue has also become an important part of the contacts between Moscow and Ankara in the context of the gradual re-establishment of the Russian-Turkish relations after the Russian «Su-24» bomber was shot down by a Turkish fighter F-16 on 24 November 2015 and one of the catapulted pilots, Oleg Peshkov, was shot in the air by the pro-Turkish group «Firqat al-Sultan Murad».
In this regard, consideration of the Aleppo problem has an independent meaning, because it allows to reveal an extremely curious layer of the military-diplomatic activity of a number of international and regional players, as well as the policy of the United Nations and its agencies, which have manifested themselves pretty characteristic in the course of «battles» for the city.
map No. 1 — Situation «on the ground» in Aleppo as of April 2016.
So, the map of the situation in Aleppo at the beginning of 2016 was reminiscent of the famous eastern pictogram «yin and yang» (see map No. 1). The western regions were under the control of the Syrian government and were connected by an important transport highway (Aleppo-Hama-Homs) to the center of the country. The East was held by the militants and was populated mainly by villagers — Sunni who moved there and replaced the townspeople from among professors, the bourgeoisie, industrialists, and so on who fled the war. These areas also had their own «road of life» — the Castello track, which connected them with the terrorist’s «liberty land» — Idlib province and with Turkey, from where not only transboundary humanitarian convoys but also streams of arms and ammunition were going to the city. By the way, the name of now well-known highway was taken from the shopping center which located on the western tip of the road and having the form of a castle («castillo» — «citadel» in Spanish) before the war.
The front line passed through the central districts of the city divided the secular multicultural west (schools and university continued to work there, hospitals were functioning, churches and mosques were opened, active trade was in progress) and the Islamist eastern enclave (Sharia courts adjudicating death warrants, prohibitions on any deviations from pseudo-religious precepts, forced recruitment into the ranks of militants, etc.). In the east the masters were: Jabhat al-Nusra*, Jabhat al-Shamiya, Firqat al-Sultan Murad, Akhrar ash-Sham, Kataib al-Baz al-Islamiya, Tajamu Fastakim Kama Umirt, Nour al-Din Zenki, 16th division, and other smaller groups of Islamists. Herewith the main coordinating role belonged exactly to the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra whose commanders were present practically in every detachment, planning their actions in accordance with a common plan.
Starting from July 2016 and until the city was completely liberated on December 15, 2016, the «Aleppo» plot was one of the core issues of the Syrian settlement. It was the solution of the Aleppo problem that became the main item on the agenda of diplomatic negotiations, both during the Russian-American consultations and in the pentagonal «Lausanne format» (Russia, the United States, Turkey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Qatar). The «Aleppo knot» became a stumbling-block in the negotiations between Moscow and Washington on establishing cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the creation of a joint executive center for the coordination of air strikes on ISIS* and Jabhat al-Nusra. Russia and the United States failed to agree on launching joint strikes against jihadists in Syria in many respects because of the successes of the Syrian army and the pro-government forces in the city, and the constantly produced requirements from the Americans to Damascus and Moscow to make concessions «on the ground» in the Aleppo area.
Concerning Aleppo, Russia was subjected to unprecedented pressure. Western and some regional media, as well as non-governmental organizations controlled by the states which sought to overthrow B. Assad, literally broke loose criticizing the counter-terrorist operation in Aleppo which was carried out by the armed forces of the SAR with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces. So-called human rights activists and journalists with no hesitation disseminated faked information that the result of airstrikes was annihilation solely of civilians, social infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, they reprinted each other with fabricated information provided either by «civil society activists» who were outside of Aleppo, and frequently outside of Syria at all, or by NGOs (Non Government Organisations) such as «White Helmets». Later they became «famous» for the whole World with a staged video demonstrating the staging of the rescue of «victims of the bombing by the SAR’s Air Forces or the Russian Aerospace Forces».
ALAFF remark: This is quite noteworthy that, for example, Mark Taliano — a well-known author and critic of criminal Western politics — in his new book «Voices from Syria» also used exactly this word — unprecedented. This word is not very common (neither in the expressions of world politicians and businessmen, nor in the articles of journalists, nor in the statements of various experts and political scientists), so if this word is used, it means something really important and going beyond the ordinary. In particular, in the Preface of the book Mark Taliano notes:
«The invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were all based on lies; likewise for Ukraine. All of the post-9/11 wars were sold to Western audiences through a sophisticated network of interlocking governing agencies that disseminate propaganda to both domestic and foreign audiences.
But the dirty war on Syria is different. The degree of war propaganda levelled at Syria and contaminating humanity at this moment is likely unprecedented«
Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva used this word. Mark Taliano used this word. Two different, absolutely unrelated people on the opposite sides of the planet Earth used the same rare word in relation to the same topic — Syrian war conflict. UNPRECEDENTED. Remember this word.
Western countries and some regional players have tried to turn Aleppo into an «alternative capital» of Syria. To this end, a massive financial, political and media assistance was provided to the self-proclaimed «local authorities» formed by militants and the opposition, in order to consolidate them in the eastern quarters, to legitimize them maximally and then form a «rebel stronghold» on their basis that could be brought to power in case if the goal of overthrowing Assad would be achieved.
Extract from the US National Security Strategy 2015.
All this was built into the strategy of restraining Russia, openly proclaimed by the US and supported by Washington’s Western allies. Liberation of Aleppo would be not only a success of the Syrian government forces, but also a great image victory for Russia which in this case would demonstrate its increased military capabilities, strengthened potential in the field of fighting terrorism, and also the fact that its position is not falling under conjunctive fluctuations, that it is consistent and non-convulsive: nevermind someone likes it or not, but if Moscow has an ally in the Middle East then she does not abandon it (by the way, this is noted by the Western experts ).
Extract from the article in «Le Temps» magazine dated of January 2017.
Unfortunately the Western countries managed to integrate the UN and first of all its humanitarian agencies into the campaign aimed at preventing Aleppo’s liberation. As well as the UN deputy secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, the British S. O’Brien, they played an unseemly role in the Aleppo issue using the pretext of the need «to save the civilians and to provide them with assistance» to freeze the counter-terrorist operation and create a comfortable conditions for the militants who seized the East Aleppo. UN staff workers who designed such a dubious schemes, in many ways discredited — at least in the eyes of Russian diplomats — the work of the UN in the humanitarian field and undermined the credibility of the humanitarian «segment» of the World Organization, at the same time undeservedly casting a shadow on hundreds of truly committed, selfless employees of humanitarian agencies who work «in the field» and who — unlike their colleagues in the Secretariat — in practice save the population afflicted with conflicts in various «hot spots».
Special attention should be paid to what kind of methods were used eventually to «close» the Aleppo issue (the evacuation carried out as a result of the Russian-Turkish agreements reached after the failure of the dialogue between Moscow and Washington). These methods reveal extremely curious moments associated with the reconfiguration of negotiating formats which can be used for settlement of regional crises. They also shed light on the possible solution tools of the certain aspects of conflicts that may be in demand in the framework of the modern transforming system of international relations, which is increasingly becoming more polycentric.
Aleppo, information war and attempts to contain Russia.
The counter-terrorist operation of the Syrian Armed Forces with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces in East Aleppo was accompanied by an unprecedented surge of anti-Syrian and anti-Russian propaganda with the use of the entire arsenal of means available to the US and its allies. We are talking about the coordinated work of the media, various «human rights» NGOs and, unfortunately, the staff of the human rights and humanitarian structures of the United Nations, who joined the fanning of hysteria aimed at discrediting the actions of Russia and the Syrian government in Aleppo, replicating accusations against Moscow and Damascus in «bombing of civilian targets, destruction of moderate opposition and killings of civilians».
In order to adequately assess the degree of engagement and mendacity of the anti-Russian and anti-Syrian campaign, it is necessary to know some facts about the situation in Aleppo.
According to Russian experts, the total number of bayonets in the eastern part of the city occupied by militants was about six thousand people. At least 1,500 of them are terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra — a grouping, along with ISIS registered in the terrorist lists of the UN Security Council. However, this does not mean that the other fighters in the city were distinguished by «moderation». Among them were the odious «partners» of al-Nusra. This is Akhrar ash-Sham (2 thousand), whose militants along with the al-Nusra have been blockading the Shiite settlements of Fua and Kafrai since 2012, and in May 2016 they seized the Alawite village of Az-Zara (Hama), arranging there a slaughter; Nour al-Din al-Zenki (1,500) — the one that «under the camera» beheaded a Palestinian boy and shelled a primary school in West Aleppo; Fastaqim Kama Umirt (800 people), who in October 2016 made a tank shot at the UN headquarters in the Eastern Aleppo* (+ here and here). So the militants held in hostage 275 thousand people who were civilians in the eastern quarters of the city, and that was recognized even in the UN .
Excerpt from the Press-Conference by S. de Mistura and J. Egeland dated of October 6, 2016.
In Eastern Aleppo there was a joint coordinating headquarters where the militants of the groups under the command of Jabhat al-Nusra were developing plans for operations against government troops. It was exactly al-Nusra who were not only the most battleworthy grouping in the city, but also the «ideological inspirer» for the other fighters.
Thus, the Russian-Syrian operation for the liberation of Aleppo had a counter-terrorist character. You don’t have to go far for the «parallel». With some delay, and then virtually simultaneously with the Aleppo events, the United States and its allies launched an operation for liberation Iraqi Mosul from ISIS terrorists. Both situations were absolutely identical: the jihadists held civilians hostage, and the authorities, the pro-government militia and external forces tried to liberate these cities from terrorists: in Iraq — the Iraqi army, the Kurdish «Peshmerga», the Shiite detachments al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah with the assistance of the US-led coalition; in Syria — the army of the SAR and allied groupings like Hezbollah, Liwa al-Quds, militia detachments «Desert Falcons» and others with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
However, it amazes how both the Western media, and, most importantly, the politicians hypocritically approached these two identical situations. Thus, the former US State Department spokesman M. Toner on the question about the difference in Washington’s assessments of counter-terrorist operations in Mosul and Aleppo, said the following: «In Mosul ISIS uses locals as a «human shield». There is a verified and planned destruction of ISIS in Mosul. In Aleppo, the Assad’s regime and Russia conducted airstrikes on civilians, civilian centers and civil infrastructure. The US does not see that regime and Russia are fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIS. Their attacks are aimed against the moderate opposition» .
Mark C. Toner’s press briefing dated of October 18, 2016.
The Western media did not lag behind. Newspapers, magazines and the Internet were inundated with stories about how Russia and Syria are leveling Aleppo with the ground and exterminating its population , how Syrian children are being locked in the «killzone» , how hunger threatens the city . The hysteria continued anyway even since October 18, 2016 there was a moratorium on the use of Russian and Syrian aircraft in Aleppo and the planes did not approach the city closer than 10 kilometers. Despite the fact that the aviation was not used, the Western press presented the Aleppo operation as a «carnage» arranged by the «bloody regime» and Russia. The Western media stopped caring about their image. Having crossed all borders, they disseminated information that on the eve of the liberation of most of the city, Russian and Syrian aviation allegedly bombed the areas controlled by the militants .
Moreover, the authors of the relevant articles referred to the UN, which by the way had no presence in Eastern Aleppo (the headquarters of the World Organization was in the western part of the city under the control of the government).
ALAFF remark: * This point should be clarified to respect objectivity. Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva said in above: «…Fastaqim Kama Umirt (800 people), who in October 2016 made a tank shot at the UN headquarters in the Eastern Aleppo…«. It follows that UN headquarters was based in the Eastern Aleppo. Most likely (99,9%) this was simply a mistake of the book’s editor or corrector (it should have been written Western, not Eastern Aleppo). Because after just a few paragraphs Khodynskaya-Golenischeva wrote: «…the headquarters of the World Organization was in the western part of the city under the control of the government…» — UN headquarters was based in the Western Aleppo, not Eastern. This is also confirmed by already mentioned articles — on SANA website, Morning Star, Reuters (not a best resource to trust, but still) etc., where it is clearly seen that we are talking about the UN headquarters exactly in the western part of the city, not eastern.
Some errors or misprints in the book (any book, not only this one) is a common, usual thing. Thus, in some place(s) of this book the name(s) of the mentioned person was indicated with an error (for example, surname was correct, but name was with some error). Naturally, not a special «evil intention», but the consequence of inattentive proofreading or editing. Of course these not «fatal» errors were corrected by ALAFF.
Here is a curious detail. On October 18, 2016 the West blocked the statement of the UN Security Council for the press with a greeting of the termination of air strikes on Aleppo and the call to divide the «moderate» opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra. The first thing was unprofitable, because it undermined efforts to create the image of Russia which «destroys the peaceful population of Aleppo», and the second thing the West simply could not do.
A separate issue is the «destruction of hospitals«, which, according to various media and «human rights activists,» there were hundreds, if not thousands, in Eastern Aleppo. The first message that the «last hospital» in the captured by militants part of the city was destroyed, appeared on June 10, 2016 . Then similar injections about «last hospitals» appeared with enviable regularity. They did not stop even after a month(!) since the Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian Air Forces ceased air strikes against Aleppo (we repeat, this happened on October 18, 2016) . The propaganda machine worked «by inertia», reproducing itself and replicating fakes.
ALAFF remark: Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva mentioned that the first message about «last hospital» appeared on June 10, 2016. But it is possible to find even much earlier messages, rumours about the «last hospital«. For example this one, from february(!) 2016:
Then it goes mentioned by Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva news from 10 June, 2016 about the «last hospital«. Khodynskaya-Golenischeva in her book gave a link to this article, but this article is deleted on the site. «Moon of Alabama» gave a link to the article on the Palestinian.com website, but this article is deleted too (wonder why?). The thing is that 99% possibility that we are talking about one same article (the same topic, the same words in both articles («jets bomb last children’s hospital in rebel-held Aleppo«), the same date — 10 June, 2016). It was impossible to restore original article mentioned by Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva in her book, but it was possible to restore the article on Palestinian.com website. And here’s it:
Then it comes a few samples with «last hospital» issue dated of July 2016:
In the next fakes the authors mentioned that there’re a «few still functioning hospitals». Pretty strange, considering all previous news that there’re «no hospitals left»:
Then again we discover that there’re «no hospitals left». I remind once again, moratorium on the combat use of aviation in Aleppo started from 18 october 2016, and neither Russian Aerospace Forces nor the Syrian Air Forces were not used. So the following few samples (though it is just the tip of the iceberg) dated of November(!) 2016 a-priori are fakes (btw, Aljazeera mentioned again a «still functioning» hospital):
And this one is like a cherry on the cake. A cheap fake about the «last hospital» dated of 16 December(!!), 2016 — two months(!!) left after moratorium on the combat use of aviation in Aleppo started from 18 october 2016 and no aviation were used, the city is already entirely liberated (it happened on 15 December, 2016), but propaganda machine is still spreading fakes about the «last hospital». A nice one:
And a few «last hospital» compilations found in Internet:
Unfortunately, UN’s humanitarian agencies and officials took part in this campaign. For example, in the report of the UN Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria of October 18, 2016 (let’s note «on the margin» that the final editing of such documents is carried out personally by the Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs S. O’Brien) it was stated that «there were at least two strikes at each hospital in the eastern part of Aleppo, which indicates the intentional nature of some of these attacks» . S. O’Brien, whose employees have never been to East Aleppo (for reasons of security the UN staff is not sent to areas where intense fighting is taking place), did not even bother to check the authenticity of this information having all the signs of grotesque, drawing an apocalyptic picture: bloodthirsty Russian and Syrian aircraft «rush» in the sky over Eastern Aleppo solely to bomb the next hospital. The UN Secretariat could not stay aside, initiating the Secretary-General’s statement that the use of «incendiary ammunition and anti-bunker bombs» in Aleppo (traditionally no evidence was provided) could be qualified as a war crime .
Those who directed this information «wave» were quite succeeded to draw into this «wave» the UN, whose leadership consisted entirely of Westerners. The same S. O’Brien in the report of the UN Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria affirmed that «mostly people are killed as a result of air strikes» and that «the international community can not leave Aleppo to the mercy of fate like Srebrenica and Rwanda» (obvious parallel with genocide can be seen) . As if terrorists did not boss the show in the eastern neighborhoods of the city, and the government waged war with its own population.
Excerpt from the UN Document S/2016/873.
The goal is clear, and S. O’Brien, in fact, opened it in the phrase: «I urge the Syrian and Russian armed forces to immediately cease all air bombardment» . So, in fact it was a question of unveiled execution by the UN’s humanitarian staff of a high level of instructions from their capitals (in the case of S. O’Brien, read, London and Washington) — to seek from the United Nations’ «angle» a suspension or, even better, a complete cessation of the operation of the Russian Aerospace Forces for the elimination of terrorists in Eastern Aleppo, appealing to the need to comply with international humanitarian law and human rights standards. In favor of this thesis is evidenced by the eloquent silence of the mass media, human rights activists and Western politicians about the Mosul, where the aircraft of the US-led coalition also bombed terrorists, but no one had any concern about the humanitarian and human rights «aspect» of the operation.
With the submission of S. O’Brien, UN humanitarian workers with perseverance worthy of a better use demanded that the Russian side obtain permission from Damascus to import surgical accessories to Eastern Aleppo. Russian diplomats did not receive a response when they asked about who will carry out surgical operations if there is no a single intact hospital left in the city (this is exactly what the West has declared, and from West’s submission — the UN too). In fact medical equipment was necessary for treatment and return of wounded militants to service. To this end, the territories controlled by the armed groups was specially visited by employees of various «humanitarian» NGOs working in Syria illegally and cooperating with the special services of the countries-adherents of the overthrow of the B. Assad’s regime (the author writes about it not for a witticism, but on the basis of the available evidence, including reports on such contacts, usually held in the Turkish Gaziantep).
Even the World Health Organization (WHO), known for its neutrality, has expressed itself on the topic of «hospitals» being under the powerful pressure of Westerners. Thus, on November 20, 2016 WHO made a statement in which it noted that as a result of the indiscriminate attacks on hospitals in Aleppo — a city with 250,000 people — there were no medical facilities left . When Russian diplomats in Geneva tried to find out from the WHO staff where they get such information if they do not have a presence «on the ground», there was no intelligible answer. However, despite this incident, it is nevertheless worth paying a tribute to WHO — on the whole this organization has shown itself as a responsible structure, trying to stay away from political intrigues.
Here we must note that in addition to traditional sources of information, which were mainly located in abroad, one organization still did work inside the country, supplying data «from the fields» for Western media. These are the so-called «White Helmets» («Syrian Civil Defense Station»). The structure deserves a special attention. «White Helmets» is a pro-Turkish NGO. It was established in March 2013 in Turkey. Originally it was headed by British security and intelligence specialist James Le Mesurier, although later the official founder was named Syrian oppositionist R. Saleh. Its activities are coordinated by the so-called «Syrian Company» — a British NGO, seeking to exclude the Syrian government from the decisions chain to conduct humanitarian operations on the territory of the country . Funding is provided for grants from the US, UK, and Denmark. The emigrant «National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces«, as well as the United States Agency for International Development allocate funds (only in 2015 it transferred to «White Helmets» 16 million dollars, and this, according to some sources, half of the organization’s budget). The United Kingdom has financed this structure for 32 million pounds sterling since 2013, of which 12.5 million was allocated in 2016.
«White Helmets» position themselves as an organization that saves wounded people from under the rubble. However, as the history of the Syrian conflict has shown, in fact it is engaged in documenting the «crimes» of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic. According to some experts, members of the organization undergo special training under the guidance of British instructors in Turkish territory. «White Helmets» interact with the headquarters of armed groups located in Turkey, as well as with persons in Syria accused of terrorism. The NGO provides logistical and material support to a number of terrorist organizations and members of the families of militants. Some sources affirm that «White Helmets» volunteers are involved in the executions of supporters of the Syrian authorities on the territories controlled by terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra . It is characteristic that the headquarters of the «White Helmets» based not somewhere, but in Idlib — the capital of Jabhat al-Nusra. The organization worked only in the captured by militants quarters of eastern Aleppo, and now — in Idlib . «White Helmets» were not interested in saving people from under the rubble in areas controlled by the Government (they were subjected to daily shelling from the eastern part of the city).
At the same time, the «White Helmets» were actively supported by Western leaders. The head of the organization R. Saleh and the head of the opposition «local council» of Eastern Aleppo H. Brito, for example, were awarded a reception at the highest level in Paris on October 19, 2016 (they met with French President F. Hollande and Foreign Minister J.-M. Ayrault).
R. Saleh and H. Brito met with F. Hollande and J.-M. Ayrault, October 19, 2016, Paris.
The former head of British diplomacy, P. Hammond, after a meeting with representatives of the «White Helmets» in Adana (Turkey), accused Russia that it is purposefully hitting those who extract the wounded people from the wreckage. Allegedly Russian military aircraft, striked the hospital or school, go into the second round and carry out bombing of volunteers heroically saving people from under the rubble . It is clear that the «White Helmets» not accidentally enjoyed such generous political and financial support from abroad. They served as a powerful propaganda tool. By the way, after the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Urum al-Kubra on September 19, 2016 (then the humanitarian column of the Syrian Red Crescent Society was destroyed), it was exactly the representative of the «White Helmets», «accidentally» passing by at that time in a white helmet and in full equipment, who acted as the first «witness» of the tragedy and gave the videocamera evidence that, he says, it was exactly the air strike. «White Helmets» also actively helped the Westerners and at a certain stage the Turks to promote the project for the introduction of a «no-fly zone» over the Syrian sky.
«White Helmets» completely discredited themselves when a staged video appeared in the Internet in which «humanitarian workers» stage a rescue of a human from under the ruins of a building. «The victim of an air strike» — a young man — was bloodied, covered with dust and moaning. However, they forgot to turn off the camera, and after the end of the staging both the «rescuers» and the «victim» began to talk and laugh  (in February 2017, the movie about the «White Helmets» received an Oscar for Best Short Film… As the saying is, no comments).
NGO «White Helmets» is just one of the sources of fabricated information about the situation in Aleppo and «on the ground» in general. During the Syrian crisis, the West and some countries in the region, including the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, created a whole network of various so-called «statistical» and «human rights» offices which regularly supplied the Western media and politicians with false information «from the fields» — naturally with a sharp anti-Russian and anti-government bias. These are: «Syrian Network for Human Rights» (Doha), «Syrian Observatory For Human Rights» (London), «Physicians for Human Rights» (New York, Boston, Washington), «Syrian Human Rights Committee» (London). Evidently, all these structures were located outside Syria, in countries that sought to overthrow the regime of B. Assad. It is not difficult to guess which agenda these offices served.
How did the international community react to the liberation of Aleppo from the terrorists? Did «human rights fighters» and «activists» pay attention to the fact that it was possible to purge the city of jihadists without bloody assault and street fighting — as it was, for example, in Iraq’s Fallujah, which in 2016 was liberated quarter by quarter for more than a month?
ALAFF remark: It is worth to remind that the uniqueness of the operation for the liberation of Aleppo consisted of several very important points:
- Creation of a whole series of humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave areas captured by militants (precisely in order to minimize damage and avoid unnecessary casualties among civilians). Russian Defence Minister announced the creation of humanitarian corridors on July 28, 2016;
- Detailed instructions for the population on leaving the city through humanitarian corridors (repeatedly dropped from helicopters);
- Use of videocameras (UAV drones) to monitor the situation, and online(!) broadcasts of the process of exit of civilians (and militants) through humanitarian corridors to provide maximum transparency;
- Joint special operations (in case if translator is not working — a screenshot) conducted by the Syrian army and Russian military advisers on the withdrawal of civilians from territories controlled by terrorists (for example, this one: video + text);
- Prompt delivery of humanitarian aid to the newly vacated territories (as of December 2017, the total weight of delivered humanitarian aid was more than 2,300 tons);
- An agreement with the militants to stop the shootings and taking out them (along with their families) on buses to the province of Idlib;
- The announcement by the B. Assad authorities of the amnesty to militants who agreed to lay down their arms and return to peaceful life;
- The Russian side deployed mobile medical hospitals in the liberated territories to help the affected civilian population (+ few more examples: here, here, here, here, here, here…). Russian doctors, risking their lives, worked for free, providing assistance to thousands of citizens (as of December 2017, more than 66,5 thousand citizens have been provided with medical care);
- Many Syrian children, affected by the Syrian conflict, were taken to Russia for treatment (naturally, for free);
- Large-scale demining (+ here, here, here…) by Russian sappers of the liberated territory — again, to avoid possible casualties from civilians (demining was carried out not only in Aleppo, but also in other cities of the country — Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor and others);
- It is necessary to note a tremendous work of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties. Thanks to the efforts of the Russian military, more than 2,300 settlements (as of December, 2017) joined the armistice (in case if there was no such Center, all these — or at least most of them — settlements most likely would be involved in the war);
- Regular briefings of the Russian Ministry of Defense for the press with detailed reports — concrete numerals, photos, videos, maps, statistics etc.
- Russian Ministry of Defense showed maximum openness and transparency, and repeatedly brought foreign press (and domestic too, of course) to Syria, gave journalists the opportunity to see everything with their own eyes, while providing security and access to the necessary places. The amount of work with the foreign/domestic press really amaze: one (22 October, 2015); two (11 November, 2015); three (16 December, 2015); four (18 December, 2015); five (20 January, 2016); six (21 January, 2016); seven (22 January, 2016); eight (7 April, 2016); nine (8 April, 2016); ten (4 May, 2016); eleven (5 May, 2016); twelve (13 September, 2017)…
- The famous concert in Palmyra. In its significance and symbolism, it was akin to the legendary military parade in Moscow on 7 November, 1941. The concert in Palmyra showed motivation, persistence, confidence in victory, strength of spirit and will. It was one of a kind humanitarian, humanistic action.
- Not directly related to the settlement of the conflict, but not less important — the unique 3D model of the city of Palmyra, created by Russian scientists and free-donated to Syrian scientists. It is rather difficult to imagine that a «bloody aggressor» (as Western media and politicians portrayed Russia) who only dreamed of destroying another «last hospital«, would worry and spend its time, energy and resources on creating such a 3D-model, and then give it to the injured party for free.
Considering all this, just compare it with «liberation» of Mosul by US-led coalition. Any humanitarian corridors to save citizens? No. Hundreds tons of humanitarian aid? No. American or European physicians and medical care for citizens «in the field»? No. Online monitoring (available for international society) of the situation in Mosul? No. Amnesty or any other agreements with militants in order to prevent civilian casualties? No… Although, the «agreements» were indeed — the US-led coalition has repeatedly allowed terrorists to freely leave Iraq and go to Syria for battles with the Syrian army. And what about work with press — does the coalition invited foreign journalists to cover its work at least once? No — what the coalition showed is just total information blockade (this means they really had something to hide). Or maybe some Syrian children were transported in USA or in European capitals for treatment? No. And there’s even no need to talk about large-scale demining in Mosul or theoretically possible «American Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties» which could be very useful in Iraq…
To begin with, on the eve and during the evacuation of militants and civilians from Aleppo, a powerful information injection was organized by the UN, aimed at discrediting the operation through its criticism in the human rights field.
Thus, on December 13, 2016, now the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted a statement in which he condemned the line of the government of Syria and its allies to capture Aleppo. Terminology is of particular importance. In the same statement, the UN Secretary-General also talked about Mosul and Raqqa. One phrase deserves a special attention. Discoursing that the Syrian crisis still «will not end — whatever happens on the battlefield in the coming days» (a sort of UN’s «advice» to Syria and Russia to stop the fight against terrorists in Aleppo), the Secretary-General draws a parallel — just as ISIS and its ideology will not be completely defeated when Mosul and Raqqa will be finally liberated (thus, the legitimacy of attempts to eject ISIS from Mosul was not put in question) . However, «to stop the slaughter» the Secretary-General demanded exactly in Aleppo, and not in Mosul. And only with reference to Aleppo he reasoned that civilians were the victims of the bombings of the «unprecedented level» (looks like the UN Secretary-General has forgotten that a moratorium on the combat use of aviation in Aleppo was effective since October 18, 2016), as well as «extrajudicial executions carried out by pro-government forces». On the same day, the Secretary-General spoke separately about «atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children» in Aleppo. Responsible for violations of international humanitarian law Ban Ki-moon «appointed» the government of Syria and its allies (read — Russia and Iran) , although the rules of IHL must be fulfilled by all parties of the conflict.
By the way, there were no the UN staff «on the ground» who could provide the Secretary-General with relevant data, and Ban Ki-moon was satisfied with the reports of local pseudo-humanrightsfighters and pseudo-activists, kindly giving them the UN «shield». This is confirmed by the fact that the «collection of evidence» about the «crimes» of the government and its allies in Aleppo was carried out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) — the most odious and engaged UN organization, which in fact undisguisedly, in alliance with Western «human rights» NGOs serving the foreign policy interests of Western countries. It was OHCHR who, from the submission of the anti-Asiad states, began to promote the theme of «executions», which allegedly carried out by pro-government forces in Aleppo during raids on houses. Failed human rights fighters lamented that «activists» are leave the records with their last words and wishes on the Internet (which, by the way, at that time did not work in East Aleppo)  (indeed, there were many such «words and wishes» in Twitter and Facebook, written in English ).
The topic was traditionally picked up by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights himself, who on December 14, 2016 emotionally complained about the «massive bombardments carried out by the Syrian government and its allies in Aleppo», which can be equated with war crimes . But the main «human rights defender» of the United Nations did not say a single word about militants who fired the humanitarian corridors, executed dissidents and generally terrorized the local population .
And finally, the Independent Commission of Inquiry — also the UN «human rights» institution, which collected information on human rights violations in Syria (usually in favor of the opposition and its sponsors). It was established in August 2011 by a decision of the UN Human Rights Council, where at that time the dominance of the anti-Asad camp was clearly seen . The commission also accused pro-government forces of committing «numerous violations, including mass executions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, kidnapping, disappearances and forced recruitment in army» . The commission did not find similar crimes by militants. Experts also condemned the «ruinous» bombing of Aleppo, again forgetting that since October 18, a moratorium on the combat use of aviation was introduced in Aleppo.
Even after the liberation of the city, attacks and attempts to discredit Russia’s actions in East Aleppo were continued with the help of various NGOs and international structures. Thus, in February 2017, «human rights fighters» from Human Rights Watch published material criticizing Moscow for allegedly refusing to investigate «deliberate air strikes» which killed at least 141 people  (no evidence other than the data of some «eyewitnesses» and volunteers from the notorious «White Helmets» as usual was not provided).
Inertial thinking continued after D. Trump won the presidential elections in the United States. An example is a custom scientific propaganda of the analytical center «Atlantic Council«, which in February 2017 — two months after the liberation of the city — released a report «Breaking Aleppo» on the need to punish Russia for its actions in Aleppo . It is clear that the publication of the report was an attempt to influence the new American administration, to convince it that it must not cooperate with Moscow. However, the fact that the opponents of establishing interaction between the United States and Russia took the Aleppo’s plot as the basis, is very typical. It is curious that «the Atlantic Council» did not find «alternative sources of information», and, in the words of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the document was based on the annual reports on the spent budgets of «downed pilots», its authors: Bellingcat, «Aleppo Media Center«, «Syrian-American Medical Society«, «White Helmets» and others. That is, those «activists», «human rights fighters» and «volunteers» whom the Russian officers of the Center for Reconciliation were taken out on buses from Eastern Aleppo and released them out of harm’s way — to Idlib, to al-Nusra .
It is clear that such a powerful information «volley» on the part of various international structures that the Western philistine was accustomed to trust, flavored with anti-Russian and anti-Syrian campaign in the media and «human rights community», impressed the unsophisticated reader and spectator. As for the United Nations, only those who were in direct contact with the intra-UN «kitchen», who knew the cadre of the secretariat and the nationality of the personnel, who had an idea of what instructions were given at internal meetings by UN chiefs (most of whom are representatives of Western countries), could know how this system actually works, and especially its humanitarian and human rights segments, how clearly and well-regulated they serve the agendas of the respective states.
But the truth still became known. But became later, when the propagandistic flurry around this or that plot subsided, when a certain «hot topic» was worked off and all about it was forgotten.
Thus, for example, it is indicative case when after the liberation of East Aleppo, warehouses with medicines and medical supplies, including equipment for hemodialysis, were found. On some boxes the marking of the «Syrian-American Medical Society» was visible. These reserves would be enough for many months. However, they did not reach the local population. At the same time, militants, activists of «local councils» and people close to them did not refuse anything to themselves.
And now it is enough to recall that October, November and December 2016 actually passed under the sign of a hysterical Western and UN campaign under the provisional title «Eastern Aleppo urgently needs medicines and medical evacuation». The countries of the West, and from their submission the UN too, literally beat the alarm, demanding that Russia urgently stop the counter-terrorist operation in a city with no medicines left, to deliver medicines there (this will be discussed next).
The UN staff prepared a report in which the fact of finding a large number of medicines in East Aleppo was recorded. However, the UN staff of middle-level did not dare to inform the head of the World Health Organization M. Chan about the contents of this document. Eventually, M. Chan was surprised to learn that Eastern Aleppo is not experiencing a deficit in medicines from «extraneous» people.
Also, the truth has become known about the crimes the militants committed in the areas of Eastern Aleppo they captured. Thus, for example, the report of the UN Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria of January 20, 2017 confirmed: armed groups took active measures to prevent civilians from leaving the areas that they managed to capture: in the area of Bustan al-Qasr opened fire on people who were trying to move to the government-controlled area of Masharik, kidnapped or killed civilians if they asked militants to leave .
Some Western politicians were able to make certain themselves in the mendacity of Western media and politicians who for many months claimed that the city was completely destroyed, and that its population was exterminated by the regime and Russian aviation. For example, the French deputies led by N. Dhuicq, who visited Aleppo in January 2017. According to their testimonies (ALAFF remark: if there’s no translation and the result is 404, refresh till it will be OK), in reality there were 15-20% of the city in ruins, another 10-15% were severely damaged. About 60% of the buildings practically were not damaged. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in Aleppo, 35-40 thousand people died — a terrifying numeral. But this is not more than 2% of the pre-war population of the city. In the western part of the city, as a result of shelling by militants, over 18000 people were killed, whom the Western media «forgot about».
Excerpt from the interview with french deputy T. Mariani after his visit to Syria in January 2017 (original article with full interview is here, in Russian).
But all this data was published only after some time, after the interest in distributing of these stories disappeared. Neither report on the warehouses with medicines found in the city, nor the facts in the report of the UN Secretary-General on the crimes of militants got no publicity, the information contained in these facts did not attract the attention of the Western media and human rights activists, this information were not represented on the pages of newspapers and in the reportages of the leading western television channels.
ALAFF remark: It is worth noting that all of this information (warehouses with medicines that militants left in Aleppo; huge stocks of weapons of foreign production (including American and European) that militants left after leaving the city; stories of locals about what actually was happening in the areas of the city captured by militants; numerous evidence of the crimes committed by terrorists… and much more) was covered by Russian television, including the main federal TV channels. This is concerning the question of the reliability and objectivity of information…
Thus, the war in Syria and, in particular, in Aleppo was not only «on the ground». The real struggle was waged for the minds and souls of people. Through tamed human rights fighters and controlled UN staff the anti-Assad camp literally created an alternative reality in Eastern Aleppo, trying to promote absolutely distorted, deceitful information about the situation in the city, completely forgetting the rights of tens of thousands of citizens caught in the radicals’ hostages.
This pursued a dual task. First, to justify its own policy of supporting militants led by Jabhat al-Nusra through promoting the image of the «bloody regime of B. Assad and its supporter Moscow, who kill civilians». Secondly, to reinforce the line of restraining Russia, preventing our country from pursuing an independent foreign policy, which would express, in particular, in convincing victories over terrorism. The already achieved success of the Syrian army and the Russian Aerospace Forces in fighting against jihadists had to be smoothed out, having presented a counter-terrorist campaign in Eastern Aleppo as a «brutal massacre» but not liberation.
On how effective was the campaign to blacken Russia’s policy in the region and to discredit our actions in the fight against terrorism, the statement of the Financial Times analysts indicates: «As a result of success in Syria… Russia sends a signal that it returned to the region as a fully fledged player» . In other words, the dogs bark, but the caravan goes on.
UN initiatives to rescue militants in Aleppo.
As stated above, Russia’s actions to combat terrorists in East Aleppo were accompanied by a noisy campaign staged by the United States and its allies and aimed at containing our country in implementing its course in Syria through the provision of massive pressure through a network of controlled media and NGOs. Unfortunately, the United Nations was partly involved in this destructive and unscrupulous campaign.
It’s no secret that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and during the unipolarity period the Westerners in general, and the Anglo-Saxons in particular, put the UN Secretariat on the rails of servicing their own foreign policy installations. This was noticeable earlier, during the campaign to overthrow the regimes in Iraq and Libya. However, in the context of Syria and, in particular, Aleppo, the United Nations, as the saying is, «revealed» to the fullest.
This is especially true of some UN humanitarian agencies, which have shown themselves in a highly improper manner. However, here we need to consider the following factor. The work of the humanitarian staff on the whole is hidden from the prying eyes (for example, not in vain the British, whose intelligence is considered one of the strongest, so «hold on» for the post of UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs — this post is now occupied by British S. O’Brien, and before that it also belonged to the United Kingdom representative V. Amos).
The public is presented with «external» manifestations of this work (distribution of humanitarian aid, trips of the UN personnel to the conflict-affected countries, assistance to vulnerable categories of the population etc.). At the same time, the most important aspects of humanitarian activity, such as the definition of humanitarian priorities (in whose favor the assistance will be provided, and how this will affect the mood of the local population), «parallel» tasks (first of all, collecting information «on the ground»), matching of humanitarian operations parameters with hostile parties (which implies, among other things, contacts with militants, and sometimes even with terrorists) remain hidden from prying eyes.
In the case of Aleppo, the UN and first of all its humanitarian agencies were literally «neck and neck» with the Americans and their allies, making priority the provision of assistance to the population in the city’s districts controlled by the militants, and duplicating «on behalf of the international community» the demands put forth by the countries interested in rescuing the anti-Assad forces blocked in East Aleppo.
The first step was the politicized decision of the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs S. O’Brien on September 29, 2016 to include the Eastern Aleppo in the list of besieged areas of Syria  — in violation of the criteria used in such cases: the settlement should be completely «sealed» within three months. While Russia and Syria have created humanitarian corridors for the exit of the population, near which there were centers for distribution of humanitarian assistance and mobile clinics (although militants have obstructed those who sought to leave the city).
Siege Watch report #4, available here.
The inclusion of Eastern Aleppo in the category of «blocked areas», being essentially illegal, had a rather strong political charge. It provided an opportunity for Western politicians, the media and human rights activists to fan the theme of «humanitarian tragedy» in the city, to position Moscow and Damascus as violators of «international humanitarian law», and under this pretext to demand the cessation of the counter-terrorist operation of Russia and Syria in Eastern Aleppo.
In this context the United Nations — from the submission of the anti-Assad camp — promoted a whole number of «humanitarian initiatives», at first glance aimed at helping the population of East Aleppo, but in fact aimed at saving the group of militants blocked there, and creating obstacles to the counter-terrorist operation of the Syrian government forces with the support of Russia in the city.
Let’s consider some of these initiatives.
Humanitarian pauses and humanitarian convoys.
Beginning in the summer of 2016, the United Nations sought to introduce 48-hour «humanitarian pauses» in Eastern Aleppo in order to get there humanitarian convoys from Turkey. All this was accompanied by literally hysterical attacks in the Humanitarian Task Group of ISSG in Geneva with the demand to Russia (and only to Russia) to agree to the announcement of pauses (their duration varied: first, the United Nations insisted on the introduction of 48-hour «silence», then it dealt with the 72 hours). The humanitarian advisor of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Syria S. de Mistura, the Norwegian J. Egeland, as if without noticing that in the Syrian conflict «on the ground» there’re lot of forces, demanded an ultimatum from Russia to agree to a 48-hour truce for delivering humanitarian aid «to the starving Syrians» . In parallel, starting from July 2016 Western and some Arab media began to promote the story of the «dramatically degrading humanitarian situation in Eastern Aleppo» . Allegedly the population of the city «trapped in the ring of Syrian government forces» is in extreme need of everything. Moreover, everything was submitted through politics: as if the citizens of East Aleppo pay a high price for not supporting the «bloody regime of Assad». Being under the pressure from Western countries, United Nations staff, including the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs S. O’Brien, began to demand that Russia put in place measures that would allow the humanitarian convoy to be sent to Eastern Aleppo .
map No. 2 — The scheme of created by Russia in July 2016 humanitarian corridors for the release of civilians from Eastern Aleppo. // original map in Russian here.
Russia, guided by concern for residents of the eastern districts of the city captured by militants, came out with the initiative to create seven «humanitarian corridors» for the free exit of civilians from the Eastern Aleppo (see map No. 2). This was announced by the Minister of Defense S. Shoigu . Along these «corridors», as well as in the places of immediate evacuation of people, humanitarian centers were set up where the Syrians could receive food, medical and other assistance. One of the corridors (northern one) was intended for the release of militants with weapons. However, this initiative did not suit the West, which began to criticize Russian efforts , and at UN meetings called the humanitarian corridors the «corridors of death». The UN, for its part, continued to demand precisely the introduction of humanitarian pauses for sending humanitarian UN convoys to East Aleppo.
Once again Russia agreed to accommodate the requests of humanitarian workers. On August 10, 2016, the Russian Defense Ministry announced its readiness to declare three-hour «humanitarian windows» every day since August 11, during which all military operations, air and artillery strikes cease. The Russian military expressed its readiness to ensure the safe delivery of assistance to citizens of Aleppo .
Moreover, suggesting a next initiative, Russia continued to regularly deliver humanitarian aid to Aleppo via bilateral channels, without stipulating it with any preconditions.
However, the three-hour «humanitarian windows» did not suit either the West or the United Nations. Humanitarian workers persistently demanded from Russia to guarantee at least weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses for the transportation of UN assistance to Aleppo. In so doing, at the meetings of the Humanitarian Task Force on Syria in Geneva the United Nations staff assured: if Russia declares humanitarian pauses, they will be ready immediately, «this instant» to send the convoy with the help to citizens of Aleppo.
map No. 3 — The situation in the south of Aleppo, including the Ramouse district (Autumn 2016). // original map here.
As a result, the Russian Defense Ministry on August 18, 2016 made a difficult decision about introducing weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses in Aleppo, as was required by the UN . Difficult because at this same time there was an active counterterrorism operation of the Syrian Armed Forces with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, both in the north of Aleppo and in the south-west (Ramouse district — see map No. 3), where jihadists from Jabhat al-Nusra were entrenched, as well as the numerous so-called «moderate» (in the opinion of Americans) armed groups that joined them — Ahrar al-Sham, Falak al-Sham, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, Ajnad al-Sham and others. Nevertheless, Russia agreed to stop the fire in order for UN humanitarian assistance to go to Aleppo quarters captured by militants. Moscow also accepted the UN demand that trucks with assistance will go from the territory of Turkey (previously its contents would be checked by the UN). Russia persuaded the government of SAR to direct the Syrian military who were at checkpoints on the Castello road not to inspect the UN humanitarian convoys for a second time in order to shorten the term of the operation. It was solely the safety of UN seals on cars that has to be checked. Despite some skepticism expressed by the Syrian leadership, the Russian General Staff in good faith announced its readiness to implement this idea. Russia together with the UN developed a route from the Bab el-Hava border transition across the Castello road to the blocked quarters (see map No. 4). The order of passage of humanitarian columns through checkpoints of the government is coordinated.
map No. 4 — Developed by Russia and the UN the route of the humanitarian convoy through the Castello road to the blocked quarters of East Aleppo (August 2016). // original map in Russian here.
We repeat, all this happened against the backdrop of constant incantations that «the tragedy of the starving East Aleppo» can be stopped only if Russia agrees to the UN demand for the introduction of 48-hour humanitarian pauses.
What was the reaction of those who demanded the delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo?
A number of opposition groups broke out angry statements about the Russian-UN initiative. The so-called «local council» of East Aleppo , a self-proclaimed «interim government»  (located in Turkish Gaziantep) and a coalition of factions «Fatah Halab»  attacked Russia and the United Nations. They rejected the option of delivering assistance along the Castello route. They demanded to send a humanitarian convoy to Eastern Aleppo along the Ramouse road (controlled by terrorists), which in fact would mean sending UN workers in front of bullets.
ALAFF remark: talking about refusal of the «local council» to use Castello road to deliver humanitarian assistance and their demand to use Ramouse road, Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva referred (footnote ) to the document «Aleppo Local Council. Statement #822, 24.08.2016«. No success to find the original of this document in Internet, but Russian Mission to UN in Geneva on 25 August, 2016 posted a tweet with a photo — a statement that shows exactly the refusal of «local council» to use the Castello road and demand to make Ramouse road as the only way to deliver humanitarian assistance. Original document «Aleppo Local Council. Statement #822» dated of 24 August, 2016, and Russian Mission to UN in Geneva posted a photo on 25 August, 2016 — actually 99,9% probability that the shown document is precisely the document «Aleppo Local Council. Statement #822»:
In this, the statement of the «local council» was drawn up in brilliant English. And a petition of the emigrant «interim government» was signed by the «minister» of the regional management, a certain Yaqub al-Iyar.
The commanders of the armed opposition groups told the humanitarian workers that they are not ready to receive assistance from the territories controlled by the Syrian «regime» .
They also made it clear that they will not allow aid to the city until all transport routes, including the Ramouse road, are open to free movement, and the «regime» will not set a humanitarian pause in the whole city and the surrounding area. Here we must clarify that according to the rules of the United Nations, the zone of «silence» covered only the routes of the convoy’s movement, the areas of location of the warehouses and distribution of assistance. Truce could not be proclaimed in the south-west of the city, where there were fierce battles to curb the advance of Jabhat al-Nusra. Fulfilling the demand of the militants to declare the southwest a «zone of silence» would mean a conscious withdrawal al-Nusra terrorists from under the fire. All attempts by the UN workers to persuade armed groups to change their minds failed.
A few words about «local councils» by whose guilt the UN humanitarian operation was disrupted.
In the fall of 2016, there were two «councils» of Aleppo — «provincial» and «city». Moreover, both were located outside the city.
«The Council of the Province of Aleppo» was formed in 2013 (elections were held in Gaziantep, Turkey). It was headed by M. Fadyla. It is curious that after the liberation of Aleppo the link to the material of March 2, 2013, which expressed the salutation of the results of the «free and democratic elections» of the local councils of Aleppo, shamefully disappeared from the website of the French Foreign Ministry .
ALAFF remark: spending some time, ALAFF was succeed to find and extract from Internet the article that the French Ministry had removed from its website, and here it is:
«City Council» was located in the settlement of Atrib (20 kilometers south-west of Aleppo). It was led by Brita Hagi Hasan. This structure was established in 2013 on the initiative of the emigrant oppositional National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
The zone of responsibility of these structures was Eastern Aleppo, not being controlled by the government of SAR.
Both councils were established with the direct financial support of Qatar. At a later period the main revenues to the budget of these «local governments» were made from Turkey, the United States, France, Great Britain, Denmark. According to the idea of the «curators», the structures had to be responsible for providing life support and maintaining the security of the population in areas beyond the control of the authorities. The «councils» were formally subordinated to the «interim government in exile» led by Javad Abu Khatab, which operated in Turkey and worked closely with the National Coalition, the United States and their allies.
The leaders of both «councils» were convinced opponents of the «B. Assad’s regime». It was through the fault of «local governments» that the humanitarian convoys to Aleppo, planned in August by the United Nations during the announcement by Russia and the Syrian government of 48-hour «humanitarian pauses», were thwarted. This was done despite the fact that the majority of opposition armed groups in the eastern districts of the city (as was believed in the office of the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria) were ready to accept convoys with food, even if the column would go along the road of Castello. «Councils» behaved destructively also during the period of «humanitarian pause» for medical evacuation on October 20-22, ripped off by militants.
The «City Council» had a certain influence in the eastern districts of Aleppo, primarily by controlling the bakeries that provided the population with bread. At the same time, outside the control of the «council» was the local «police», which was funded in the framework of the American-Danish project, as well as «Sharia courts».
According to some sources, both «councils» maintained contact with illegal armed groups, as well as with Jabhat al-Nusra (in case of the «city council»).
Bottom line is: the so-called «local governments» were never based in Aleppo and functioned entirely on the funds of external sponsors. The US with its allies kept them, as they say, «for the future». In the case of a full transition of the city under the control of militants, «councils» could be transferred to Aleppo to create there an «alternative opposition capital of Syria». Fortunately, these plans were not destined to come true.
It was precisely «for the future» that Western leaders and the media paid special attention to the leaders of self-proclaimed governing bodies.
Thus, for example, H. Brito along with the head of the Syrian «White Helmets» R. Saleh on October 19, 2016 was received with a fanfare by the President of France F. Hollande , and on December 15, 2016 — by the chairman of the European Council D. Tusk . It is interesting, how would they react in Europe to reception at the highest level in one of the countries, for example, the supporters of the independence of Venice, Corsica, Scotland and Catalonia?
Thus, the Syrian opposition disrupted the detailed (plan was already finalized and agreed) Russian-UN humanitarian operation in the areas of Aleppo controlled by opposition. The conclusion is obvious: the «opposition» nurtured by the US, some Europeans and regional players, and the militants patronized by these countries, used the population that was under their control as a hostage to their political games.
Why? The answer is simple. The opposition and its external sponsors (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States) were extremely interested in preserving the problem of the «starving» Eastern Aleppo blocked by the «bloody regime of B. Assad» and its supporting Russia. That’s why they sabotaged the UN-Russian humanitarian action. Moreover, it would be unacceptable for the opposition and its curators if the World would saw that at the request of the United Nations Russia created all the conditions for the delivery of assistance to the areas of Syria controlled by the militants. This would raise Moscow’s rating in the eyes of the local population, held by jihadists as a «human shield».
According to the UN staff themselves, in order to break the resistance of the militants in relation to the humanitarian operation in Aleppo, they turned to the patrons of the «opposition» from among the regional players. Including directly to Qatar. But they have received a categorical refusal: no humanitarian aid if it comes along a route controlled by the «regime».
What were the actions and reaction of the UN in these conditions?
The UN cancelled the humanitarian operation in Aleppo, even despite the fact that Russia urged it not to obey the militants and still to deliver help. The office of S. de Mistura made a neat statement that «the Special Representative regrets the negative reaction in some circles of the opposition» to the proposals of the United Nations and Russia on the delivery of assistance .
Though Americans were noticeably embarrassed by the behavior of the «oppositionists» and militants, nevertheless they quickly navigated the situation. On September 15, 2016 at a meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force, the US delegation did not hesitate to say that it treats the requirements of field commanders «with understanding». If only Moscow would agree to the introduction of humanitarian pauses «on the entire territory of Aleppo» (that is, including the southwest, where al-Nusra was in charge), then the opposition would «generously accept» UN humanitarian aid. This is a hypocritical approach — because the UN has never asked Russia to extend the «silence regime» to the southwest. It was exclusively about the routes of humanitarian columns and distribution zones of assistance. And Moscow fully provided the UN demands.
As a result, 40 loaded trucks, standing on the neutral strip of the Turkish-Syrian border for about two weeks, were reoriented to other populated areas or disassembled. It was made without noise. And it is not surprising — after all, at the height of emotional appeals to Russia to agree on humanitarian pauses, the UN staff pressured Russian diplomats on the terms of a humanitarian pause, complaining that the food in the trucks is already beginning to decay. As it turned out, it was not true.
By the way, interesting details were revealed here. Drivers who were hired on a regular basis by UN to deliver humanitarian goods from Turkey to the SAR, either had expired driver’s license, or did not have any documents at all. Trucks were more like trash: holes in the bodies (which made senseless the practice of sealing them with UN seals), the lack of any kind of humanitarian marking to identify convoys from the ground and especially from the air. When driving through territory controlled by militants, the cars were unaccompanied along the routes that the driver determined by himself. Such a complete «lack of discipline» on the part of the United Nations (whether it was intentional?) represented the possibility of using these columns to deliver «targeted» assistance to the militants.
Thus, in August 2016, ordinary residents of Eastern Aleppo became a bargaining chip in the unscrupulous game of those who were interested in changing the regime in Syria.
Western media and NGOs, not noticing the behavior of the «opposition» and the militants, continued the tantrum over the «cynicism of Russia» regarding the suffering of the peaceful population of Aleppo .
We should focus separately on the role of the United States in these events. According to the author, the failure of the humanitarian operation in East Aleppo, especially considering Moscow’s consent to facilitate its implementation, contradicted American interests. It demonstrated the limited capabilities of Washington in cases when it is necessary to achieve from the allegedly controlled forces «on the ground» the implementation of humanitarian plans agreed with the UN and Russia. There is no doubt that it was the «allies» of the United States who did not allow the realization of the humanitarian operation, giving the command to armed groups to sabotage the corresponding efforts.
The question is: what Turkey, KSA and Qatar persecuted with their demarche? The answer seems to be that Ankara, Riyadh and Doha, the alliance between which by that time was very strong, were dissatisfied with the Russian-American negotiations on the establishment of a joint structure to combat terrorism. During these consultations, which at that time took place in Geneva without the participation of the regional players, Washington even formally but was forced to agree, including publicly, with the need to separate the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra and the «moderate» ones. This of course could not but irritate the regional troika, for which al-Nusra was the most capable force in Eastern Aleppo — under its «umbrella» all the other factions acted. The regime for the cessation of hostilities in the city, agreed by Moscow and Washington, also did not meet the tasks of the three countries that spent a lot of money on fueling the IAF  in East Aleppo. Under the conditions when the regional players could not openly oppose the Russian-American agreements, they found the opportunity to sabotage any positive initiatives through forces that they supervised «in the field».
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 .
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 . The Ministry of Defense of Russia announced the introduction of a three-day humanitarian pause starting from October 20, 2016  (and, at the request of the United Nations, extending it from 8 to 11 hours), which then had to last for another day . 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.
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  — 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 , 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  and to blackmail the Syrian authorities with water cut-off, since al-Nusra had previously taken control of the Suleiman al-Khalabi water station . 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 . In total, the Russian military recorded 139 violations of the cease-fire regime by militants during the humanitarian pause . 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 . 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 .
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 . 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  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 .
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.
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 . 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  (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 .
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  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.
Evacuation of «civil activists».
The UN tried to facilitate the life of the grouping blocked in the Eastern Aleppo, as the saying is, «to the last». Thus, on December 4, 2016, J. Egeland presented a «plan for the evacuation of civilian activists and humanitarian workers» from Eastern Aleppo (about 1,000 people) . The UN workers did not even hide the fact that it was the infamous «White Helmets» who wanted to be evacuated (a non-governmental organization that worked in the territories controlled by the militants, famous for their ties with the radicals, as discussed above), and other organizations serving militants, including doctors, who treated representatives of illegal armed groups, as well as members of self-proclaimed organizations of local self-government. How else to explain that «activists and human rights defenders» wished to evacuate not to somewhere, but to the capital of Jabhat an-Nusra — to Idlib. Apparently, at that time in Idlib there were a pretty favorable conditions for the functioning of «civil society»…
The Ministry of Defense of Russia almost immediately agreed to facilitate the evacuation of the so-called «political activists». It was understood perfectly well in Moscow that not only representatives of NGOs serving illegal armed groups can try to leave the city under the guise of «human rights defenders», but also the militants themselves. But the Russian side believed that the more people leave the city, the better.
However, these plans too were not destined to come true. The fact is that, the UN workers, as usual, formed a cumbersome plan, which implied long humanitarian «windows» and various complex procedures. In conditions when there was an active antiterrorist operation in the city, it was practically impossible to carry out such an action without pushing jihadists to provocations. Then the Russian military from the Reconciliation Center in Khmeimim, who were at that time in Aleppo, asked the UN workers the contacts of «activists» in order to directly agree on a specific place and time of withdrawal (the Russian Defense Ministry was ready to introduce a local humanitarian pause in this area). However, the UN staff flatly refused to provide such contacts. It is clear that the «activists» simply did not want to «shine» and hoped that with the help of the World Organization and its pressure on Russia they could escape from the city.
As a result, the ball remained on the UN side, and the «human rights defenders» managed to leave the city during a large-scale evacuation conducted by Russia, the UN and the ICRC in late December 2016.
Unfortunately, we must admit that humanitarian assistance in the context of the Syrian crisis, from the submission of Western countries and their partners in the Middle East, and with the connivance of the UN, has turned into a politically-propagandistic weapon. Under the pretext of solving humanitarian problems, the countries-supporters of the overthrow of B. Assad tried, in fact, to carry out a «cover-up operations». Caravans with foodstuffs under the applause of humanitarian agencies and «in front of the nose» of hungry Syrians, who lived in government-controlled territories, went to the cities held by jihadists. The sick and wounded, women and children of Eastern Aleppo, with the «mediation» of the United Nations during the «medical evacuation» were supposed to be «exchanged» for antibiotics, painkillers and other medicines to treat the militants.
As for the United Nations, it demonstrated the unconditional orientation of its leadership to the anti-Assad camp led by the United States, the readiness at the first call to take the path of servicing their interests, including playing up to the so-called «tragedies of the day» and replicating false statistics in order to exert pressure on Russia. This was multiplied by irresponsibility and populism, inability to achieve their own programs — after all the necessary requirements were met by Russia. Behind the cascades of accusations against Moscow and Damascus, the criminal role of jihadists in East Aleppo and their external curators was hidden, as well as the ineradicable desire of some UN leaders to play along with radicals and serve their sponsors in a coordinated effort to overthrow B. Assad.
Initiative of S. de Mistura on the withdrawal Jabhat al-Nusra militants from the Eastern Aleppo.
The blockade of Eastern Aleppo, captured by militants of various groups operating under the terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra, was a big irritant for the West and other supporters of the overthrow of B. Assad. Washington was unable to fulfill the demand put forward by Russia to separate the moderate opposition from terrorists, as the main condition for the normalization of the situation in Aleppo and the beginning of the fight against terrorism
The Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, S. de Mistura attempted to solve the problem, and he put forward an initiative to withdraw Jabhat al-Nusra from Aleppo.
He first voiced it to Russian diplomats and the military on October 5, 2016, during a private conversation. Noting that the situation in Aleppo becomes insufferable, and soon in the city, as he say, the famine will begin, S. de Mistura said about the need to take some urgent creative steps to save the situation. Russia, the special envoy continued, would hardly want to «associate» with the humanitarian catastrophe that flared up in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo. And therefore it is beneficial for Russia to settle the problem peacefully. S. de Mistura noted that in these conditions he had the idea to solve the issue by evacuating the Jabhat an-Nusra militants from the city, for example, to Idlib, which has long become the «capital of al-Nusra».
The special envoy began work on popularizing his idea, having previously received a «green light» from the Russian side. Moscow was interested in the implementation of this idea. Firstly, it allowed the Aleppo problem to be solved «bloodlessly», and secondly, it was at this time that the French brought to the UN Security Council a highly engaged draft resolution on Syria that demanded a «no-fly» zone over Aleppo and imposed a ban on any attacks against terrorists who have settled in the eastern neighborhoods of the city.
On the next day, October 6, S. de Mistura voiced his initiative during a press conference. It implied the withdrawal of the Jabhat al-Nusra militants from Eastern Aleppo, who held 275,000 people in hostage. They could go to Idlib or any other place that they choose. Moreover, the special envoy expressed his readiness to personally escort the terrorists to their destination, where they would be evacuated «with dignity». In exchange, Russia and Syria had to commit themselves to stop the bombing of Eastern Aleppo, and also to agree to the preservation of the opposition «local council» as the governing body in the city .
One moment is characteristic: S. de Mistura determined the number of al-Nusra militants in the city in 900 people . However, on September 25, speaking at the UN Security Council, the special envoy said that Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists number is more than 50% of the total number of militants  (8 thousand) — that is, at least 4,000 bayonets. It is not clear where more than 3 thousand militants from UN statistics mysteriously «disappeared» in 10 days.
Naturally, such an experienced politician as S. de Mistura would never take such a step as manipulation with facts. Of course, it’s not about him, but about his team, which consisted entirely of Westerners connected with their «like-minded people» in the UN Secretariat in New York by powerful ideological ties. They — or rather, their curators in Western capitals — could not allow that it was said with reference to the UN that half of all the militants in East Aleppo are terrorists who need to be taken out of the city. If 4,000 al-Nusra militants would left the eastern quarters, the supporters of the overthrow of B. Assad would have remained without an armed «fist», which would make it impossible for the remaining groups to organize the defense of the east of the city in case the storming of city would nevertheless followed. Therefore, there is almost no doubt that S. de Mistura simply received from New York a new, «correct» statistics.
The very next day — October 7 — the special envoy reported on his initiative to the UN Security Council. The idea consisted of 4 points:
- The immediate cessation of the bombing of Eastern Aleppo.
- The evacuation of the Jabhat al-Nusra militants «with dignity» and with their weapons — to Idlib or another place.
- Preservation of «local authority» and giving it the opportunity to continue its work without hindrance.
- Ensuring the international presence .
It seems the mistake of S. de Mistura was that he didn’t dare to undertake active independent actions on the UN line in favor of implementing his initiative, hoping that it will be another states interested in using his concepts to solve the problem of Eastern Aleppo who will «pull chestnuts out of the fire» for him. Apparently, the special envoy considered that the UN would not have enough political resources for the implementation of his initiative. In spite of the fact that there was a certain logic in this approach, in our view, the role of the locomotive in the implementation of the initiative should have been assigned exactly to the World Organization, so that it would not «disperse» across the capitals, but would remain consolidated. S. de Mistura went the other way, making it clear that in order to realize the idea he needed to achieve the «appropriate agreement» between Russia and the United States. Then — the «appropriate agreement» between Russia and Turkey. Then — the «appropriate agreement» between the participants of the «Lausanne format» (Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar). As a result, the UN lost leadership in this issue, giving it to the countries that took responsibility for promoting the initiative.
map No. 5 — A scheme for the evacuation of terrorists from Eastern Aleppo along two routes (the roads of Castello and Ramouse) in the framework of realisation the initiative of S. de Mistura // Original map in Russian here.
Indeed, Russia has independently worked on the implementation of the ideas of S. de Mistura. During the negotiations between V.V. Putin and Turkish President R.T. Erdogan in Istanbul on October 10, 2016, the parties agreed to support the idea of a special envoy and for this purpose intensify contacts through military departments and special services . A scheme of evacuation along two routes was developed: the roads of Castello and Ramouse (see map No. 5).
Russian-American negotiation on Aleppo and issues of combating terrorism in Syria.
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 , 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 .
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 .
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» , 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  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.
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 ). 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 ? 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).
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 , the self-proclaimed «interim government»  (located in Turkish Gaziantep) and the coalition of factions «Fatah Halab»  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» . 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 . 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 . 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 .
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» . 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.
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 . 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» ), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon («a sickening, savage, and apparently deliberate attack» ), the head of the Independent Commission of Inquiry in Syria P. Pinheiro («a cruel blow to the Syrians» ).
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 . Then the charges rose to a higher level — on September 21, 2016, Secretary of State J. Kerry accused Russia of destroying the humanitarian column .
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» . 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  (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.
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 ». 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 . 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).
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.
photo No. 5 — The place of the tragedy in Urm al-Kubra — a clean roadway, without craters and traces of the explosion.
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.
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».
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):
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:
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.
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 . 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.
The «freezing» of the Russian-American negotiating track was perceived by some players who jealously watched the dialogue between Moscow and Washington, with frank enthusiasm. Especially it concerns France. In Paris, they decided, as the saying is, to try to «take revanche».
In order to understand better the motives of the French, who proposed the draft resolution of the UN Security Council, one thing must be taken into account. Before putting the text in agreement, France (at least, it looked like this for the outside world) tried to negotiate with Russia. French Foreign Minister J.-M. Ayrault on October 6, 2016 specially traveled to Moscow to explain the meaning of the French initiative on the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on Syria. Then the Frenchman assured the Russian side that Paris has no desire to «provoke» Russia to a veto. On the contrary, France is allegedly aimed at finding compromises. Even during the press-conference it was stated that J.-M. Ayrault came to Russia «not with threats» .
In fact, the French minister visited Moscow with the sole purpose of demonstrating to the «world community» that France was «playing openly» and was trying to find a compromise. And it is Russia that manifests an unconstructive, non-negotiable approach.
J.-M. Ayrault intentionally misinformed Moscow that he is not interested in achieving a veto. After all, in the Russian capital, he was clearly told that in the proposed form, the draft resolution has no chance of being accepted. In so doing, S.V. Lavrov said that Russia will not vote against if France takes into account our amendments and considerations. The French minister confirmed that «Paris does not want to run into any veto» .
The president of Russia V.V. Putin answers one of the questions, taking part in the eighth «Russia Calling!» Investment Forum organised by VTB Capital. Moscow, October 12, 2016.
On this promising note J.-M. Ayrault flew from Moscow to Washington and the next day went with J. Kerry to the press, accused Russia of degrading the situation in Syria , then without discussion the French brought their project to the vote in the UN Security Council.
Already on October 8, 2016, that is, two days later, the same J.-M. Ayrault, sitting in the UN Security Council, complained that «Aleppo was thrown to death by the executioners, and the military operation is aimed at capitulating the city. Eastern Aleppo can repeat the fate of Gernika, Srebrenica and Grozny. B. Assad and his allies nurturing extremism, thus being accomplices of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and are trying to crack down on the moderate opposition» . J.-M. Ayrault called the Russian-American agreement stillborn. And this is France, which in 2003, together with Russia, Germany and other sensible players, tried to warn the Anglo-American duo from invading Iraq. In general, the French, well aware of the doomedness of their initiative, nevertheless forced a voting.
It is difficult to paint the hysteria that rose in the UN Security Council after the Russian veto. US Deputy Permanent Representative D. Pressman went so far as to accusing Russia of being «one of the providers of terrorism» .
It should be kept in mind that the French put forward their proposal virtually immediately after the Russian-American dialogue on Aleppo was frozen on October 3, 2016. Of course, France tried to take advantage of this and «raise» its foreign policy status by introducing one more useless initiative to the UN Security Council. At the same time it is obvious that without a «nod» from the key ally — Washington — Paris would never have decided to advance the draft resolution. Hence, the Americans were interested in this. The essence of the initiative of Paris was to achieve the goal that the Americans sought, negotiating with Russia, but, as you know, they could not achieve. Namely, to ban flights of aviation in the Aleppo region, to provide cover for the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra and the militants who joined them, despite the obligations of the UN member states to fight the terrorist threat with all available means . How else to interpret the paragraph of the French draft, in which all sides were called upon to «stop all bombing and all military flights over the city of Aleppo» (it was, of course, offered under humanitarian «sauce») .
Excerpt from the UN Document S/2016/846 (proposed by France draft resolution on Syria).
There were other harmful proposals in the text, for example, about the need to strengthen monitoring of the cessation of hostilities (it is known that France tried to «occupy» the role in this process, supervised by Russia and the United States), and that in case of non-compliance with this decisions the UN Security Council can take «further measures» (read — sanctions, etc.).
So the main meaning of the project was obvious — to create a «no-fly zone» over Aleppo, what the Americans sought during the negotiations between Russia and the US, but what they failed because of the inability to meet Moscow’s counterclaim — to divide the «moderate» opposition and terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra. That is why the French, with backstage support from the Americans, attempted to close the sky over Aleppo. The question that naturally arises when reading the French project: whom Paris tried to shield and protect, promoting the initiative with a ban on combat aviation flights over Aleppo? After all, according to Russian data, at that time up to 6,000 militants operated in the eastern part of the city, of which about 1,000 belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra, 2,000 to the radical Ahrar al-Sham affiliated with al-Nusra, 1,5 thousand to the extremist detachment of Nour al-Din al-Zenki, who became famous throughout the world for beheading a 12-year-old Palestinian boy , 800 people to Fastaqim Kama Umirt, who fired tank shots on UN headquarters in Eastern Aleppo on October 30, which forced the World Organization to urgently evacuate its international staff from the city. At the same time, al-Nusra militants carried out coordination of activities of all these groups, as well as planning operations in the general headquarters (Gurfa Amalia Mushtaraka) . Thus, Paris de facto defended the international jihadist International, entrenched at that time in Aleppo by banning strikes against the targets of terrorists. Strangely enough, but it was understandable why France openly sided with the terrorists. It was them who were the fighting backbone of the forces opposing the troops of B. Assad in Aleppo. Their «salvation» was necessary in order to prevent the fall of Eastern Aleppo under the pressure of government forces, which would mean a radical change in the war in favor of official Damascus.
On the same day, a voting was taken on the alternative Russian draft resolution. The United States, Great Britain and France voted against. Despite the fact that the text mentioned the Russian-American agreements of September 9, and called for all countries to be guided by this document (it figured in the draft as an annex). The initiative of S. de Mistura on the solution of the problem of Eastern Aleppo by evacuating the Jabhat al-Nusra militants from there was welcomed. The text also contained a requirement to ensure unhindered humanitarian access, including through the announcement of weekly humanitarian pauses. The project also called for the immediate observance of the cessation of hostilities, primarily in Aleppo  — and this is exactly what the Americans have been calling for.
So what was the problem of the Russian project? It was that one of the points sounded like this: the UN Security Council «stresses the urgent need to achieve and verify separating moderate opposition forces from Jabhat al-Nusra as a key priority» .
Excerpt from the UN Document S/2016/847 (proposed by Russia draft resolution on Syria).
So, this was absolutely unacceptable for Americans, since the division of terrorists and «moderates» promised by CIA director J. Brennan during his visit to Moscow in February 2016 was never carried out by Washington. This became one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the Russian-American negotiating track. That is why the Americans could not accept a resolution that obliged the US to fulfill, at last, a promise to divide the anti-government forces they allegedly monitor and jihadists. It was against this point that the US delegation stubbornly opposed in New York. The reason is simple. Washington did not have any really controlled forces «on the ground». They could work for the separation of the «moderates» and terrorists only through regional allies who did not aspire to fulfill this demand of Washington and were interested in keeping a linkage between the most combat-effective structure — Jabhat al-Nusra and other anti-government detachments. Americans understood this. And they did not want to «go under» accusations of non-compliance of the demand of the UN Security Council resolution. That’s why the United States, as well as Britain and France voted against the Russian project.
Stumbling on an attempt to push through the anti-Syrian draft resolution, the West did not abandon its efforts and began to act by others hands. In November, the «troika» (Spain, New Zealand, Egypt) began to promote the draft «humanitarian» resolution on Syria. There were no «surprises» in it either. The document insisted that all parties in Aleppo  cease «any attacks», including actions against the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra, but not the confirmation of the ceasefire regime, which, as is known, has no effect against the terrorists. Given that the fighting «fist» in Aleppo was jihadists from Jabhat al-Nusra (Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria S. de Mistura at the briefing in the UN Security Council on September 25, 2016, said that number of al-Nusra militants is 50% of the total number of militants in the city) , this was, perhaps, the first time when the Security Council was used to protect terrorists. The project, of course, did not receive support, and it was vetoed by Russia and China (Venezuela also voted against it, Angola abstained).
In October-November 2016, Russian and American experts in Geneva repeatedly tried to return to the settlement of the «Aleppo issue». Washington mainly sought to establish an uninterrupted supply of the grouping surrounded in the eastern neighborhoods of the city. The allies of the United States and the United Nations joined in this task. Attempts were made to abolish the checkpoints of the Syrian government along the roads of Ramouse and Castello with the replacement of the Syrian military with Russian ones (apparently, as a potential target for provocations). Russia was ready to agree to this proposal only on the condition that American soldiers will stand next to our officers at the checkpoints.
In November and December 2016 in Geneva, a series of consultations of experts from Russia and the United States were held, within the framework of which two teams tried to give the idea of S. de Mistura a practical shape. Delegations worked on a document entitled «Proposals for stabilization of the situation in Eastern Aleppo». Interest in finding a formula for implementing the initiative of the special envoy was on both sides. As mentioned above, for Moscow the withdrawal of terrorists from the city provided an opportunity to prevent its storming, for Washington — not only to keep the «moderate» detachments in Aleppo, but also to consolidate there «opposition» authorities, which in the long term would mean turning the city into an anti-Assad stronghold not far the border with Turkey, from where militants would receive reinforcements and weapons, as well as from Idlib, where the headquarters of al-Nusra was located and from where it was possible to coordinate the actions of armed groups and amass forces for a future attack.
During this period, the main contradiction was the question of the number of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in Eastern Aleppo, who were to be released as part of the implementation of the ideas of S. de Mistura. This aspect was really basic, even «strategic», since it depended on how many militants would remain in the city after the implementation of S. de Mistura’s initiative and, accordingly, in how much a large anti-government stronghold the supporters of the overthrow of B. Assad could turn the eastern quarters of the city.
During the bilateral consultations, the head of the American delegation, William Wood (an experienced diplomat, formerly the US ambassador to Afghanistan and Colombia), tried to convince the Russian team that there are 200 al-Nusra terrorists in East Aleppo — and no more. He assured that these data are allegedly based on information obtained by US intelligence. He did not provide any evidence base, suggesting to take it by the word. He called to agree on withdraw 200 terrorists from the city, which could become «the first real step in the implementation of the idea of S. de Mistura». At the same time, the Special Envoy himself on behalf of the UN announced a figure of 900 al-Nusra militants — which is several times more than what W. Wood insisted on. In so doing, the American demanded at all rounds of consultations without exception, immediately, «right this minute» to introduce the regime for the cessation of hostilities in the city. Without this, he say, Washington will not be able to persuade the moderate opposition to drive out Jabhat al-Nusra from the eastern quarters. He aggravated: under the conditions of the Syrian government’s offensive, the «correct» opposition is «forced» to unite with terrorists (the same rhetoric was also used by the Americans a little earlier, before a moratorium on airstrikes in Aleppo became effective, when they demanded the cessation of bombing of the city). Say, just stop the work of combat aviation, and the «moderate» opposition will immediately separate from Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Russian side had irrefutable evidence that there were significantly more al-Nusra militants in the city — about 1,500 bayonets. In Aleppo the Russian military were present «on the ground» and had serious opportunities to gather information about the situation. Our data was based on radio intercept materials, information from defectors and captives, but not on statistics taken from social networks and mass media that Americans used. And a common sense also prompted: it was absurd and unprofessional to assert that 200 terrorists allegedly not only keep the eastern part of the city with a population of 275,000 under control, but also confront the Syrian government forces.
The Americans denied that trying to «push through» the obviously understated numbers of terrorists in East Aleppo, they «save» the most combat-capable anti-government force «on the ground». They assured that if the militants who stay in East Aleppo after al-Nusra’s withdrawal will violate the ceasefire regime, they will have to be expelled from the city. By the way, by this phrase it is clearly seen how politicized was the approach of the B. Obama administration to the terrorists who remained in East Aleppo, as well as to methods of combating them (violators of the RCH will have to be «expelled», not destroyed). Indeed, the Americans did not directly answer the question of Russian diplomats and the military, whether the violators of «silence» will be subjected to force-based measures, as stipulated in the rules and procedures of the RCH. They were shirking: say, it is desirable that the opposition first try to expel violators from the city. If it does not work out, then the United States and Russia would have thought together whether to strike or not. In other words, the formula proposed by the Americans deprived Russia and the government of the SAR of the right to use force against violators of «silence» and was aimed at maximum footdragging in the decision-making process to fight those who broke the truce.
Thus, the US task was to achieve legitimization in Eastern Aleppo of opposition «local councils» (as the initiative of S. de Mistura envisaged) with low losses, by withdrawing from the city an insignificant, symbolic part of the jihadists, and thus securing the city for «opposition». It is in this context that it should be considered as if accidentally thrown by W. Wood a remark that «al-Nusra militant who observes the ceasefire should be regarded as a peaceful resident of Aleppo«.
The following detail fits the general picture: once, after a lengthy dispute over the number of terrorists in Eastern Aleppo, a CIA representative was forced to admit that the information about only 200 al-Nusra militants in the city was received by the US from the «opposition». Also the representatives of the US special services surprised the Russian military with the methodology of qualifying armed groups. Thus, a detachment of 500 militants, commanded by 10 «al-Nusra fighters», in their understanding was «moderate».
The Russian-American negotiations on the document «Proposals to stabilize the situation in Eastern Aleppo» were joined at a later stage by the regional states, who had influence on the militants in Eastern Aleppo — Turkey, KSA and Qatar. And the same thing happened here: the parties started to «altercate» on the number of Jabhat al-Nusra militants in the city. USA, and from their submission the regional troika too, spoke «in chorus» about 200 al-Nusra militants in the eastern quarters, without showing any evidence at all. It is characteristic that the estimates of the total number of «people with arms» in the city coincided with all participants in the consultations — 5-6 thousand people. That is, the contradictions concerned only the number of those who were subject to evacuation.
Consultations in a multilateral format, as well as the Russian-American track of negotiations, showed that the United States and the regional states were stubbornly clinging to the understated number of al-Nusra militants in Eastern Aleppo and were not ready to show flexibility on this issue. They were aware that if al-Nusra militants, as the most disciplined and experienced segment of the anti-Assad front, will left these areas, the rest of the «opposition» would immediately lose its fighting efficiency. That is why they were interested in keeping this fighting «fist» in the city in order to prevent the transition of Eastern Aleppo under the control of the Syrian government forces.
The situation of the blocked grouping of militants was deteriorating, the ring of encirclement was getting tighten under the attacks of government troops. Let’s recall — this was in the conditions of the moratorium, imposed on October 18, 2016 by the decision of the Russian president V.V. Putin, on the use of combat aircraft for strikes on targets in Aleppo. This affected the position of the United States, leading to some easing of Washington’s negotiating demands. J. Kerry proposed S.V. Lavrov to hold in early December 2016 negotiations of experts on the simultaneous withdrawal of all combatants, without dividing them into moderates and al-Nusra militants. That is, it was not about implementing the initiative of S. de Mistura on al-Nusra’s withdrawal, but about trying to get everyone out of the part of the city still under the control of the militants.
The US position was influenced by the fact that Washington was forced to catch up with events, because simultaneously with the Russian-American consultations the evacuation of civilians and militants from Aleppo was already underway in the framework of Russian-Turkish agreements. By December 9, there was already more than 91% of the city’s territory under the control of the Syrian government forces . The day before the Syrian army had temporarily stopped firing in the southeast of Aleppo in order to ensure the safe exit of people. It was about a column of 8 thousand people and the length of the route at 5 km .
Therefore, the Americans were late and tried at least somehow to stop the process of moving the rest of the city under the control of Damascus.
On December 10, 2016 Moscow proposed a compromise: the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo is possible from 8.00 Damascus time on December 15. The US had to use a 5 days temporal «gap» to compile a list of «moderate» detachments that would leave the city, and their approximate numbers. Terrorists from Jabhat al-Nusra could not leave together with the armed opposition. If the jihadists would agree to stop resistance, they would be evacuated to Idlib province through special corridors. If on the appointed day within 8 hours after the deadline (until 16:00 on December 15) the organized exit of the militants did not begin, the fighting against the jihadists could resume.
But US Special Envoy for Syria M. Ratney demanded «immediately» to declare the cessation of hostilities in Aleppo allegedly in order to allow «peaceful residents» of the besieged neighborhoods of the city to leave them in safety. It implies at least a 48-hour «silence» with the possibility of its extension. Moreover, the American pressed, the announcement by Russia and the «Assad regime» of readiness to introduce the RCH in Aleppo would mean a positive signal for the militants, an «incentive» to agree to evacuation from Aleppo. At the same time, the Americans traditionally evaded undertaking any obligations to guarantee compliance with the armistice by the opposition «under their control».
Trying to convince the Russian side of the need to introduce the RCH in Aleppo «in the very near future», M. Ratney reasoned very cynically in the spirit of the fact that the outcome of the battle for the city is still decided in favor of the «regime», and the US, with its offer, kindly help Russia «pay less image price» for the victory, give it the opportunity not to be associated with the death of civilians — which is inevitable if the Armed Forces of the SAR and the allied forces will decide to «clean up» the city.
During the Geneva consultations, Americans were shown a video from a Russian drone, which broadcast the process of getting people out of the city online. It was emphasized that the Russian and Syrian sides are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of civilians fleeing from terrorists, whom al-Nusra and affiliated groups used for many months as a human shield. M. Ratney and his colleagues were informed in detail on the efforts being made by the Russian military to provide humanitarian assistance to people leaving the city. While al-Nusra and the groups associated with them continued to fire and mine humanitarian corridors, kill dissenters and use women and children as human shields. As for the Americans demanding the «immediate» introduction of the RCH throughout Aleppo, Russia had great doubts that the US this time will be able to provide us with solid guarantees of its compliance by militants. And, in general, all this was very much like an attempt to give terrorists another respite.
After a long «walking around» and M. Ratney’s numerous consultations with J. Kerry, the Americans said that the introduction of a regime for the cessation of hostilities throughout Aleppo «at least» from December 12-13 for 48 hours with the possibility of extension is a key element of the eventual arrangement for the United States. Without this, they say, it will not be possible to «persuade the opposition» to leave the city.
On December 11, the negotiations were stopped. Russia informed that its position on the possibility of introducing an armistice on December 15 has not changed (although, stipulating that if the evacuation of civilians ends earlier, the withdrawal of militants can also begin earlier).
This was the final chord of the Russian-American negotiations on Syria. The bilateral track did not justify itself, and Russia relied on alternative possibilities to solve the problem of Eastern Aleppo — through cooperation with the countries of the region.
Why did two influential states — Russia and the United States — fail to agree on coordination of actions in the fight against terrorism, which poses a serious threat to both these countries and the world as a whole? The answer to this question contains a whole series of sometimes unrelated elements. We’ll list only a few of them.
One of the reasons is the untwisted flywheel of anti-Russian rhetoric and the chain of hostile moves towards Moscow by the B. Obama administration. After the failure of the «reset», the counteraction to Russia, and then a barefaced russophobia, became an integral part of American foreign policy. Moreover, aggressive anti-Russian attacks turned into an integral part of the «image» of most major politicians in the United States. Anyone who did not criticize Moscow, in fact, had no opportunity to advance on the career ladder. The presence of ties with Russia, even fictitious ones, could become a tool for discrediting (let’s remember that there was an attempt to expose D. Trump in some «special relationship» with Moscow, which, in the opinion of the Democrats, should have automatically blackened him). The administration of B. Obama fell into the trap it had created itself: under the conditions of «self-censorship», which was adhered to by most American politicians, simply voicing the need to unite efforts with Russia in the fight against the common evil was already something out of the ordinary and required great political courage. It is this thing that explains the position of the American negotiating team at the bilateral consultations in Geneva on combating terrorism. The US delegation constantly stipulated the creation of a coordination mechanism for counter-terrorism activities by unilateral concessions from Moscow. Washington needed them for two reasons. Firstly, in order to «sell» them to an anti-Russian-minded domestic political audience (say, look, Russians are so interested in cooperating with us that they not only fulfill our demands, but they also force the «B. Assad regime» to take unpopular measures). Secondly, in order to demonstrate to its regional allies that, while negotiating with Russia on fighting terrorism, the US does not betray a common anti-Assad matter (in capitals that sponsored armed groups in the SAR, they were extremely unhappy with the fact of consultations between Moscow and Washington). On the contrary, America, they say, is committed to «corporate solidarity», is seeking serious concessions from Moscow and Damascus and constantly keeps the Russians under pressure, forcing them to take the steps in which the anti-Assad camp is interested.
Speaking about the prospects for Russian-American cooperation, we can state with confidence that former US Secretary of State J. Kerry was a supporter of building a cooperation with Russia on the fight against terrorism. However, he was opposed by an entire «army» of those who could not stand the sight of the idea that Washington and Moscow would carry out joint projects in Syria. One of the main opponents of cooperation with Russia was former US Secretary of Defense A. Carter, who pursued a policy of blocking Russian-American agreements and appropriately oriented the military part of the US interdepartmental delegation in Geneva, which was negotiating with the Russian side. J. Kerry failed to overcome the resistance of the US Defense Ministry, as well as opponents of interaction with Russia in other departments. The author is convinced that whatever concessions Moscow would make, the US appetite would just grow. The «system» would still not allow a major joint project to fight terrorism, it functioned on a different, anti-Russian «fuel». The Washington would not have allowed the announcement of the beginning of Russian-American cooperation, and the intra-US system of checks and balances would still work to prevent a rapprochement between Moscow and Washington.
A couple of words worth mentioning about the interaction along the line US — regional allies. Because of the highly inconsistent and subjected to conjunctural fluctuations policy of the former US administration, at the end of B. Obama’s presidency there were contradictions in Washington’s relations with all regional centers of power, primarily with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Thus, for example, Ankara was irritated by the active American support of Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the fight against ISIS (the bet on the PYD was partly the result of Washington’s attempt to create an effective anti-ISIS force «on the ground» from the detachments of «moderate» opposition). There have been cases when Turks carried out strikes on the forces of the PYD, which were supported by the US and in whose ranks there were the American advisers, which caused extreme discontent in Washington. Moreover, the parties could not agree on who would control the areas recaptured from the ISIS, which also served as an irritant in bilateral relations. As for Saudi Arabia, of course, a shock to the kingdom was the conclusion in July 2015 in Vienna of a Joint comprehensive plan of action to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear program between the six international mediators and Iran with the participation of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Policy Security. The plan implied, in particular, a phased removal of sanctions from Tehran — the main rival of Riyadh in the region .
Excerpt from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) document.
This, of course, could not but affect the US-Saudi relations, which for a long time served as the «core» of American influence in the Persian Gulf region. We should also add a reduction in Washington’s control over its Middle Eastern partners to the already undermined confidence of the states of the region towards the United States. Thus, the Americans had to choose possible allies among the anti-Assad detachments «on the ground» from the «menu» prepared in advance by the regional players, who since the beginning of the Syrian crisis began to provide massive support to anti-government forces, most of which were of Islamist tone. Accordingly, Washington had to seek the fulfillment of various aspects of the US-Russian agreements not so much directly in contact with them, but through regional allies. The latter were by no means always ready to obey, receiving Washington’s recommendations, which often ran counter to their interests, and at times openly sabotaged these recommendations (examples — the failure of the US attempts to achieve the separation of «moderate» militants from Jabhat al-Nusra, or Washington’s inability to get anti-government groups to implement the Russian-American agreements of 9 September 2016 regarding the removal of opposing forces from the Castello road in Aleppo). Plus, the interdepartmental intra-American contradictions were superimposed on this, including disagreements between the Pentagon and the CIA, which relied on different groups in Syria.
Thus, internal and external «enemies» did not allow B. Obama and his administration to take a decisive step towards cooperation with Russia in the field of combating terrorism.
Cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Syria between Moscow and Washington under the new US administration would have a significant influence on the balance of power in the region.
Especially since D. Trump himself demonstrates his readiness to «deal fairly with everyone — all people and all other nations» and «seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict» . Such a common ground could be exactly the fight against terrorism. It is obvious that the settlement of the protracted crisis in Syria is a complex process with many components. And putting a serious strike on the jihadists does not guarantee a shift in the resolution of the conflict. Here we can not do without a long and complicated process of inter-Syrian negotiations, without taking measures to restore confidence, without continuing the work to strengthen the ceasefire regime, and so on.
However, in a situation when the modern world order is increasingly tending towards polycentricity, and the regional centers of power are increasingly asserting their interests and willingness to vigorously and sometimes even aggressively defend them, there’s a risk of imbalance of the international system. In this situation, the demonstration by Moscow and Washington of unity in the fight against terrorism could become a serious disciplining signal for the remaining elements of the system of international relations, which means that in the long run it would contribute to increasing its stability and health in general, without which it is impossible to imagine the recovery and conflict-free development of many countries of the Middle East.
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 .
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» . 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 . 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» .
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.
Evacuation of militants from Eastern Aleppo — a unique operation of the Russian military.
Understanding the futility of the dialogue on Aleppo with the Americans pushed the Russian side to intensify bilateral contacts with regional powers and even directly — with the opposition militants. Since the beginning of December, in Ankara there have been series of non-public contacts between Russian military, representatives of the Turkish special services and armed groups. The result was the second phase of the evacuation of representatives of illegal armed formations and residents from the blocked zone, which began on December 15, 2016.
The operation for the withdrawal of militants was unprecedented in scale. In the vicinity of the Ramus Bridge, an entrance to a 6-kilometer humanitarian corridor was prepared, which linked the blocked last stronghold of militants to the Rashidin-4 district, which was under the control of the opposition. Throughout the road, Syrian troops were withdrawn, and six checkpoint were set. They were on duty by Russian officers from the Center for Reconciliation in Khmeimim, who were ensurig the safety of the passage of columns of transport with people.
With the announcement of the operation at all international platforms, an information campaign was launched from the submission of «friends of Syria» and with the direct participation of Western UN officials. There were attempts to blame Russia for refusing to grant access to «independent observers» in order to conceal «the crimes of the B. Assad regime» during the evacuation. At the meetings of the Ceasefire Task Force in Geneva, representatives of European countries (Italy, Germany, France) with horror in their voices were talking about «arrests and shootings» of people leaving the city. The world’s leading mass media were alarmed: civilians, including teachers, doctors and humanitarian workers who leave East Aleppo, are detained and forcefully taken to the government army . They were echoed by the «human rights» offices feeding from the hands of Western capitals, which organized a campaign to spread information about some man «detained» during the evacuation with a call to beat the alarm and to seek his release  (interestingly, how would London, where the headquarters of the NGO «Amnesty International» is located, react to calls for the release of persons suspected of terrorism?).
Amnesty International’ desperate appeal to release a «detained» man.
Of course, there were also some structures specially created for replicating fakes about Syria. For example, the Syrian Human Rights Network (registered in the UK, funded from London and Doha) told about the arrest by the «regime» of the whole convoy with people who were to be evacuated from Eastern Aleppo . This information had so evidently fabricated character that even the UN human rights structures, which usually are not objective at all, did not dare use it.
Syrian Human Rights Network spreading obvious fake.
The truth was this. The evacuation took place under the supervision of international organizations, primarily the ICRC, WHO, as well as UN staff, who had the opportunity to be convinced of the lack of violations of international humanitarian law during the operation. Buses and ambulance carriages of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent Society came to the blocked city, they loaded the militants, their families, the wounded and everyone who wanted to leave the zone and moved to Idlib. By the way, among the UN humanitarian agencies it was the World Health Organization who right away responded to the call to provide independent monitoring of the evacuation process, immediately sent of their people to the humanitarian corridors, who shoulder to shoulder with the Russian officers provided an exit.
The operation was not smooth. Pro-Iranian formations on December 17 took advantage of the evacuation from Eastern Aleppo to solve the problem in which their coreligionists found themselves in the Shiite enclaves of Fu’ah and Kafarya (Idlib province), blocked by extremists from Ahrar al-Sham. Buses with militants were unexpectedly stopped by «Hezbollah», which put forward a demand — the evacuation will continue only if people from Fu’ah and Kafarya will be taken out. Buses were sent in Idlib to save the Shiites. But the action ended tragically — the terrorist group «Jund al-Aqsa» on the way to Fu’ah and Kafarya fired a column of 50 buses, 20 of which burned down (a curious remark — the Americans blocked in the UN Security Council the adoption of a statement for the press condemning the attack of militants on the convoy). Two drivers died. The situation has become a crisis.
During the talks between the heads of diplomatic and military departments of Russia, Turkey and Iran on December 20, 2016 in Moscow, it was agreed that along with the evacuation from Aleppo, people from the Shiite enclaves would be taken out too. On December 23, 2016, Russian Defense Minister S.K. Shoigu reported to President V.V. Putin on the end of the operation to liberate Aleppo.
Indeed, it was an unprecedented operation, no overstatement.
For the first stage, 115 quarters were vacated, almost 82 sq. km. During this time, 7 humanitarian corridors were created, through which about 110 thousand people left the city. 9 thousand militants ceased resistance .
The second stage — after the suspension of hostilities on December 15 — was to conduct a large-scale humanitarian operation to withdraw radical militants, members of their families, women, children . 31,284 people were withdrawn, 701 of them were wounded. The number of militants who took advantage of the offer to leave the city amounted to 14,891 people. Amongst the released — 7606 women and 8787 children. The operation was provided during the day by a large group of officers of the Armed Forces of Russia, controlled by flying apparatuses, web-cameras at the entrances and exits from the city , for which seven command posts were established.
As it was said above, the operation was provided by about 60 employees of international organizations.
After districts of Aleppo one by one began to pass under the control of the Syrian government, the Russian military from the International Mine Action Center of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation arrived to city to clean it from explosive items. They have done a tremendous work of demining Aleppo, creating the necessary conditions for the return of inward-displaced persons and the safe operation of the UN humanitarian agencies. Approximately 3 thousand hectares of territory, 1 thousand km of roads, 5 thousand buildings (including schools, hospitals, socially significant infrastructure facilities) have been cleared . Unfortunately, we have to admit that international organizations did not render assistance in this to Russia, and our military had to go all alone, street after street, to clean the city of explosive devices.
The «arc» of Aleppo-Hama-Homs-Damascus, connected by transport highways, passed under the control of the Syrian government. In a sense, it became a «rod» of strategic stability for B. Assad. During the report to the President, S.K. Shoigu noted that the next step should be the announcement of a regime for the cessation of hostilities throughout Syria. The truce indeed became effective on December 30, 2016.
On the other hand, an unprecedented scale of operation for the withdrawal of militants from Aleppo is now being considered by many members of illegal armed formations as an option in case when the ring of encirclement gets tighten. The level of trust of the armed opposition to the Russian and Syrian negotiators has increased. The temptation to avoid bloody clashes through the achievement of appropriate agreements has been increased. It is no coincidence that after the liberation of Eastern Aleppo, the number of «local pacifications» throughout Syria increased significantly, with the mediation of the Russian Center in Khmeimim.
The military meaning of the operation for the liberation of Eastern Aleppo is of serious interest both from the point of view of assessing the fighting capacity of the Syrian government troops and to study the experience of the use of the Russian Armed Forces. The victory was the result of a complex combination of measures of a power character with a whole series of special events using methods of psychological struggle, the use of modern technologies, units of special operations forces (SOF). Intelligence service and negotiators of the Center for Reconciliation, in cooperation with Syrian colleagues, effectively shattered the militants’ defense. The point liquidation of their commanders by the SOF fighters disorganized the anti-government forces, and a powerful information-psychological impact forced them to seek peaceful ways of settling the conflict. This experience, undoubtedly, will be studied by the Russian military and will be in demand in future at other places, considering the growing threat of international terrorism.
The liberation of Aleppo and the intensification of military-political efforts to establish an all-Syrian regime for the cessation of hostilities.
Indeed, the problem of Aleppo, further dividing the opposing sides in the public space, in practical terms, served as a stimulus for activating the process of searching for optimal negotiation formats for finding solutions to this plot. As discussed above, its discussion took place during Russian-American contacts in the so-called «Lausanne format» (the latter more met the multipolarity criteria), and also at the bilateral level (Russia — the countries of the region).
Moscow’s very creative formula for solving the Aleppo issue suggested a combination of effective military actions with negotiation methods (direct contacts of Russian military with armed groups with Turkish participation).
In this regard, it is interesting to look at the reasons why the Lausanne format, which looked very promising and theoretically met the tendencies of the development of the modern system of international relations towards multipolarity, did not become an effective tool for solving the Aleppo problem.
There are several reasons. As it seems, one of the main things is that Iran and Saudi Arabia were not ready to work seriously in this format. The main antagonists of the region, competing in the same period not only in Syria, but also in Yemen and Iraq, were not able to search — especially in public — the formulas for the solution of the Syrian conflict.
Another reason is Qatar’s extremely tough, uncompromising position. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of that country, A. Al-Thani, publicly announced the Doha’s intention to continue arming Syrian militants — even if D. Trump turns off the support of anti-government forces . The fact that the position of this state has not changed, was eloquently evidenced by the arrogant, sometimes defiant behavior of Qatari diplomats on international platforms. This was also confirmed by the consultations of the UN Secretary General Special Envoy for Syria S. de Mistura in Doha, which took place during the same period. S. de Mistura admitted in a conversation with Russian diplomats that from his visit to Doha he made a clear impression that Qatar remains on uncompromising positions on the Syrian «dossier».
In these conditions, in parallel with the Russian-American consultations and contacts in the «Lausanne group», the search for optimal formats for the settlement of the Syrian crisis and, in particular, the problem of Aleppo as one of its important aspects continued.
Thus, after the start of a phased restoration of relations between Russia and Turkey, constant contact was established between the military of the two states. For Russia, Aleppo was the most important problem that failed to be solved in cooperation with the United States. And most of the groups operating there  anyway were focused on Ankara, first of all, on Turkish special services. If some units had sponsors from among the Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc.), then without logistic support from Turkey they would be cut off from the main channel of supplying weapons and people, and would not be able to keep East Aleppo. No matter how Western and other sponsors helped them through «tamed» NGOs and foundations, this would not be enough to conduct military operations and exercise effective control over occupied territories.
Aleppo, of course, was strategically important and in many respects symbolic city for Turkey from a historical point of view. However, an even more topical priority for Ankara was preventing the creation of a unified zone on the border with Syria, which would be controlled by Kurds from the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In the existential plan it was even more important for Turkey to break the Kurdish «belt», to wedge into the Kurdish territories. Ankara’s strategic goals were to split the potential Kurdish belt linking the western (Afrin) and eastern (Qamishli) enclaves, creating a «buffer zone» of security (to a depth up to 50 km.) along the border from Azaz to Jarabulus, which could, after taking Al-Bab, to become a bridgehead for an offensive against the capital of the «caliphate» — Raqqa.
A very powerful factor was imposed on this, related to the restoration of Russian-Turkish relations and Russia’s firm position on condemning the attempted military coup in Turkey (July 15-16, 2016), which was announced right after the Turkish leadership officially apologized for the downed aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces on November 24, 2015. It is clear that after the support given to R.T. Erdogan from Moscow during the attempted coup d’etat (moreover, against the background of the vague position of the West), the Turkish president was disposed to take visible steps aimed at improving relations with Russia. The restoration of Russian-Turkish interaction was not some ephemeral process, expressed in vague declarations of intent. At least in the case of Syria, it was about specific steps designed to regulate and harmonize the actions of the two countries «on the ground». This was both regular telephone talks of the chiefs of staff, the signing in January 2017 of a memorandum on the prevention of dangerous incidents in the air, and regular contacts at various levels. In this case, from the strategic point of view for Ankara, it was important not so much to retain control over Aleppo, as to get an opportunity to conduct the operation «Euphrates Shield», which the Turks carried out jointly with the detachments of the Syrian Free Army controlled by them; its official goal was to fight against ISIS, but other tasks were also resolving, related to countering the attempts by the Kurds of the Democratic Union Party to create a «belt» on the Syrian-Turkish border, as well as actively developing the territories liberated from ISIS/Kurds.
However, it would not be entirely true to say that the assistance in resolving the situation in Aleppo through its transition under the control of the SAR government was some sort of «huge concession» from Ankara to Moscow. Let’s not forget that the grouping of militants who remained surrounded in Eastern Aleppo, as well as members of their families, were by no means in an enviable position. The rebels were in a tight ring of Syrian government forces, the «Tigers» group of H. Suheil, Lebanese «Hezbollah», Iraqi and Afghan Shiites, so the fall of the rebel stronghold in Aleppo was a matter of time. The work of Russian and Syrian aviation on the positions of militants also was the motivation for the decision to surrender. Thus, Ankara, while agreeing to evacuation under conditions where the forces of Damascus and its opponents were unequal, also benefited from the preservation of loyal forces and the possibility of their eventual use in the future to achieve certain goals «on the ground». So the Turks did not lose.
Thus, the problem of Aleppo was solved, no matter how paradoxical this may sound, by players who pursued completely different goals in Syria. Due to at that time objectively coincided interests «on the ground» and in the political field, both Moscow and Ankara considered it expedient to close this issue on the terms that suited both sides.
In general, the development of cooperation to solve the problem of the Eastern Aleppo in the triangle Russia-Turkey-Iran (let’s not forget about the role of Tehran in ensuring cooperation with the Shiite groups) laid the foundation for the subsequent major arrangements for establishing a ceasefire in Syria with guarantees from Moscow, Ankara and Tehran.
Tight Russian-Turkish contacts were continued — this time in the form of the mediation of the Turkish side during the talks in Ankara between the Russian military and large anti-government groups operating in the north and in the center of Syria, on the introduction of the regime of the cessation of hostilities (RCH). Let’s mention right now why the detachments controlling the south of the SAR were not involved in this process at first. Firstly, there were no serious military operations at that time in those provinces. Secondly, in order to pull up the appropriate groupings under the «umbrella» of the RCH, it was necessary to involve Jordan, and through it — the United States. The experience of interaction with Washington, testifying to the inability of the B. Obama administration to fulfill the obligations it assumed upon signing the Russian-American agreements of September 9, 2016, did not speak in favor of involving the United States in the process of elaborating the conditions for a new RCH — at least until the arrival of D. Trump administration. In this regard, the bet was initially made exactly on the units associated with Turkey.
Contacts with Iran as a key player able to work with the official Damascus, as well as influencing numerous pro-government detachments «on the ground», did not stop too. In advance to «pull up» Iran to implement future agreements on the introduction of a cessation of hostilities was extremely important for ensuring the stability of the armistice. In this regard, the Russian side, through diplomatic and military channels, actively pushed Tehran to realize the need to restore the ceasefire in Aleppo, and then throughout Syria. According to Moscow, this in no way would mean stopping the fight against terrorism. On the contrary, it would allow focusing on defeating jihadists, and would also create conditions for the transition to a political settlement of the Syrian crisis with the participation of a moderate armed opposition. Given the impressive success of the Syrian army with the support of pro-government forces «in the field» in October-December 2016, it was a very difficult task to convince Tehran that the restoration of the armistice in Syria is topical and necessary. All these issues were discussed, including during the Russian-Iranian-Syrian talks in Moscow with S.V. Lavrov, M.J. Zarif and W. Muallem on October 28, 2016.
Along with the talks in Ankara and Russia’s contacts with the region players, there was intensive diplomatic work on the already established axis Russia-Turkey-Iran through bilateral channels. An important fundamental meeting in this context was talks in Moscow on December 20, 2016 between S.V. Lavrov, M.J. Zarif and M. Cavusoglu. As a result, a joint statement was issued, which became the first such document, which fixed a number of principles on which mutual understanding was achieved between one of the «great powers» (in the Yalta-Potsdam categories) and two key regional players supporting the opposite sides in the conflict in the SAR.
Two important statements were written in the Joint Statement, among other things.
— The evacuation of civilians and militants from Eastern Aleppo was welcomed . This was an unprecedented decision for Ankara, because in the classic sense it «lost» in Aleppo and had to, along with other members of the anti-Asad camp, «resolutely condemn the seizure» by the regime and its allies of «Syria’s second most important city». The consent of the Turks to welcome the «transfer» of Aleppo to the official Damascus was an unequivocal signal to the states that sought to overthrow B. Assad that the given «green light» for the evacuation of Aleppo militants is a deliberate decision by Turkey. And also — to the factions inside East Aleppo, sponsored by the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, that even if the curators continue their support, it will hardly be possible to use the logistics and other opportunities that the Turkish territory represents (at least in the same volume and for a certain period of time).
— Russia, Iran and Turkey have expressed their readiness to contribute to the elaboration of a future agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition, the negotiations about which were conducted in Ankara by Russian military with anti-government groups mediated by Turkey, and become the guarantors of this agreement. The joint statement is an important document also because it clearly illustrates the following: the solution of an important but still local Aleppo problem has become a kind of «trigger» for reaching larger agreements related to the establishment of a ceasefire regime in Syria since December 30, 2016.
The tripartite ministerial meeting in Moscow on December 20, 2016, of course, was not easy. An important task was to achieve from Iranians guarantees for the cooperation of Shiite detachments (the difficulties were indeed: for example, linking the exit from the city with the organization of the evacuation of residents from the Shiite enclaves of Fua and Kafraya). There were also many questions to the Turkish side — first of all, how long the Turkish military will remain on Syrian territory in the framework of the operation «Euphrates Shield». Disputes between the parties came out during the negotiation of the final statement.
Thus, the Turks tried to promote the idea that the control over the areas liberated from terrorists of Syria will be transferred to «local forces», raised the issue of the immediate withdrawal from the country’s territory of «foreign Shiite formations». In many respects, thanks to Russia’s mediation, it was possible to take off these inquiring demands, to vector the parties to the fact that the participants in the Syrian negotiations should determine the future structure of Syria and that the SAR government has the legal right to make independent decisions on the country’s defense (including involving foreign forces in this task). The main thing — it was recognized that Iran and Turkey are «part» of the solution of the Syrian crisis, and therefore should be involved in the search for its formula. As for the role of Russia, both M. Cavusoglu and M.J. Zarif recognized that Moscow — in contrast to Washington — keeps the word, its position is not subjected to conjunctural fluctuations.
Let’s consider the possible reasons that motivated the Turks to go to an agreement with Iran on Aleppo. The position of Ankara is of key importance here. It’s difficult to call the Turkish-Iranian relations easy. Their development is characterized by a traditional paradigm of restraining the intensity of competition in order to preserve interaction on issues of common interest . And it is understandable that in Syria, Turkey and Iran acted as antagonists, supporting the opposite sides of the conflict. At the same time, Ankara looked at the interaction with Iran from longer-term strategic positions. Firstly, Turkey could not ignore the potential changes in the ranking of forces in the region after the signing in July 2015 of an agreement between the «six» international mediators and Iran on the Iranian nuclear program. A phased abolition of international sanctions, stipulated in the agreements, opened up additional opportunities for Tehran to return to the international arena as a full-fledged player. And — more importantly — strengthened Iran’s position in the region, helped to activate its role in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — in countries where the pro-Iranian Shiite forces and formations acted. Ankara, of course, could not stay aside and observe the change in the regional balance in favor of Tehran. However, neither Turkey nor Iran allowed themselves to go to a head-on collision in Syria, because they demonstrated for a long time the ability to restrain their rivalry and avoid open conflicts, carefully creating cooperation spheres at the same time . Moreover, the gradual reintegration of Iran into the world community created the risk of reaching agreements between the West and Tehran on Syria without taking into account the interests of Ankara. In this sense, Iran would in some way replace Turkey for the West, relations with which just at this time passed the next test for strength. The reason is the indistinct position taken by Brussels and Washington at the beginning of the military coup attempt in Turkey, serious problems in the dialogue with the European Union on migration, which is why the Turkish-EU relations have periodically sparked, as well as a constant irritant in the form of the preacher F. Gulen residing in the US. Even more grim scenario for Ankara is the possibility of starting cooperation between Iran and the United States, Russia and China, again, bypassing Turkish interests. Moreover, the rapprochement between Iran and Russia, provoked by Syrian events, objectively created additional risks for Turkey in the region. Finally, R.T. Erdogan at this time continued to withdraw Turkey from international isolation, which resulted because of the failure of the foreign policy doctrine of «Neo-Ottomanism», put forward by him as an alternative to the former «European vector» of Turkish policy . This required Ankara to revise relations with a number of countries, including Israel, Russia, Egypt and, of course, Iran. So Ankara’s decision to cooperate with Iran on Aleppo served Turkey’s interests, allowing to prevent, slow down or even turn in its favor some of the current trends in the region of the Middle East. A number of the advantages that were due to Ankara’s cooperation with Iran and Russia on Aleppo and on Syria on the whole, ensured Turkey with a very advantageous lot: rescuing the forces under its control in the surrounded East Aleppo while preventing the joining of Kurdish-controlled cantons in the north of Syria (which, incidentally, was in the interests of Tehran too, who was not attracted by the prospect of creating a unified Kurdish belt on the Syrian-Turkish border), a reserve for the development of economic relations with Iran in the period after the lifting of sanctions , the anchoring for Ankara a place in the format «Russia — the key countries of the region» (arising in the period of «timelessness» in Washington because of the arrival of the new US Administration) and, as a consequence, increasing the role of Turkey in the region.
On December 29, 2016, it was announced that agreements had been reached between Russia and armed groups under Turkish mediation, which proclaimed a ceasefire throughout Syria .
Following a two-month talks between Russia and the Syrian armed anti-government groups with Turkish mediation, a package of three agreements was signed in Ankara.
Excerpt from the UN Document S/2016/1133.
First — the Statement on the introduction of the regime of the cessation of hostilities (RCH) in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. It dealt with a truce that came into effect on December 30, 2016, and also contained the obligations of both warring parties (refrain from striking any kind of weapons, seizing territories, proportionally using force, etc.) . Let’s pay attention to the fact that the statement was drawn up on behalf of the Russian Federation. The «package» also included a press release from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which welcomed the achievement of ceasefire agreements and stressed that Ankara and Moscow would act as guarantors of the ceasefire.
Excerpt from the UN Document S/2016/1133.
Second — an Agreement on a mechanism for recording violations of the regime of the cessation of hostilities, announced in Syria since December 30, 2016, and the regime for applying sanctions against violators. Russia and Turkey, as guarantors of the RCH, agreed to establish a Joint Commission (its representative offices are located in Moscow and Ankara), which manages the activities of control points to monitor the RCH and submits proposals on bringing perpetrators to justice. The points of control were created in close proximity to the actual line of contact of the parties . The document was signed by the representatives of Russia and Turkey, and the certified copy was signed by the responsible persons of the Government of the SAR.
Excerpts from the UN Document S/2016/1133.
Finally, the third — the Agreement on the formation of delegations for the beginning of negotiations on a political settlement with a view to the comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means. This document is the only one which has the signatures of representatives of armed groups who previously participated in the negotiations in Ankara (a general power of attorney from the commanders of the detachments is attached to the paper, giving their representatives — Usama Ibrahim Maatermavi and Munzer Seras — the right to sign the Agreement on their behalf), as well as Russia and Turkey. The document stated that the leaders of the armed groups join the RCH and undertake to form a delegation to negotiate with the government in Astana on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis peacefully with the support of the guarantors — Russia and Turkey .
The announcement of the signing of the Agreements took place on December 29, 2016 during the working meeting of V.V. Putin with S.V. Lavrov and S.K. Shoigu. It was noted that the formations, with which the agreements were reached, control most part of central and northern Syria, which is not subject to the power of Damascus. The total number of these detachments is more than 69 thousand militants. Simultaneously, similar work was conducted with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic . An important, even key difference of the signed Agreements from what Russia had agreed with the United States in the past was that the opposition indicated the exact coordinates of the location and the settlements it controls. Organizations that do not cease hostilities will, according to the Agreements, pass to the category of terrorists, and exactly the same actions will be taken against them as against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra . It was also noted that the Egyptians will be involved in the Astana process of organizing negotiations on the political settlement of the crisis, and at a subsequent stage — other region players (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan), as well as Americans, but only after the formation of the corresponding team by D. Trump.
Of course, there were difficulties connected with ensuring the implementation of the agreements reached. Thus, right after its announcement, Iran sent signals that there were allegedly not enough consultations with him in developing conditions for the introduction of a regime for the cessation of hostilities in Syria. The Turkish side also presented a surprise in the form of statements by groups and representatives of the so-called «civil society» on the situation in Wadi Barada, where there is a large water intake of drinking water Ain al-Fiji, providing water to Damascus. The oppositionists crashed down on the «regime» for allegedly carrying out «barbarous attacks» in Wadi Barada and threatened to withdraw from the agreement on the RCH .
The purpose of keeping the situation «on the ground» under control was complex and extended beyond the framework of the Russian-Turkish mechanism for monitoring the RCH. The truce created the basis for solving the problems that enable us to reach a comprehensive Syrian settlement: the introduction of measures to restore confidence, the opening of humanitarian access, the beginning of a direct dialogue between the warring parties on a range of issues (de-escalation of the situation «on the ground», the parameters of the new Constitution, the withdrawal of foreign formations, joint fight against terrorism), launching of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, etc. The widening of the agenda of the «triangle» Russia-Iran-Turkey reflected the objective trends related to the demonstration of the effectiveness of the format, which included Moscow and the two most important regional players, so it resulted in the creation of the «Astana format» of the Syrian settlement.
The first international meeting on Syria in Astana was held on January 23-24, 2017, with the participation of the guarantor-countries of the RCH — Russia, Iran and Turkey, as well as the United States and the United Nations. During this meeting, for the first time it was possible to seat at the same negotiating table the representatives of those Syrian parties who fought «on the ground» with weapons in their hands (the government delegation was headed by the Permanent Representative of the SAR to the United Nations B. Jaafari, a militant group — the representative of the «Jaysh al-Islam» group M. Allush).
The result was a statement by Russia, Iran and Turkey, in which the «troika» pledged to work to consolidate the regime of the cessation of hostilities, build confidence, provide humanitarian access. The statement expressed the determination to jointly combat terrorism and to achieve the separation of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and moderate groups. It was also recorded the readiness of armed groups to participate in the inter-Syrian negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.
An important decision was related to the establishment of a tripartite mechanism — the Joint Group — to oversee the RCH, which included Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United Nations. It was also provided for the possibility of involving Syrian conflicting parties in case of need to solve specific problems «on the ground».
The «Astana platform» is based on the «triangle» — Russia, Turkey and Iran. This allows to provide the most prompt solution of specific problems in a compact format, which contributes to the awareness of each member of the «triangle» of a sense of responsibility for the implementation of certain agreements, does not allow the «friability» inherent in the International Syria Support Group and even, as it turned out, in the «Lausanne» format , whose number of participants is inversely proportional to their effectiveness. At the same time, in view of the multiplicity of forces fighting in Syria «on the ground», it is envisaged to attract other interested states to work on the «Astana platform». Thus, at the second International meeting on Syria in Astana (6-7 February 2017) Jordan took part as an observer. It was Amman that helped to bring the «Southern Front» groups to the observance of the regime of the cessation of hostilities, because the Jordanians, unlike the Turks, have influence on these groups. Depending on the situation, an opportunity is open to invite other countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, etc. — to Astana to assist in resolving specific issues on the agenda of the meetings. Despite the fact that the US ambassador to Kazakhstan, G. Krol quite passively participated in the consultations on the Astana site, the very fact of the presence of American representatives at events in the «Astana format» is very important. It is very likely that with the formulation of the political line of the administration of D. Trump in the Middle East in general, and in Syria in particular, the need for American participation in the Astana meetings will intensify. This is important to keep in mind. If in Astana it will be possible to agree on the coordination of the forces of the government of the SAR and the opposition to defeat the jihadists, and Russia and the US will finally be able to jointly carry out airstrikes against the radicals, a serious step will be taken towards implementing the initiative of V.V. Putin to create an international front to fight terrorism.
And, finally, the launching of the Astana format by Russia, Turkey and Iran has become a powerful stimulus for the United Nations to resume the political process of the Syrian settlement: another round of inter-Syrian negotiations has begun, which Russia has been struggling to achieve since April 2016. In many respects, fearing that Astana will pull over on itself a political issues and remain the only platform for the Syrian settlement, at which the UN will play an auxiliary role, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, S. de Mistura, decided to restart the inter-Syrian dialogue in Geneva (it was launched on February 23, 2017).
It seems, the parallel work of the Astana and Geneva formats of the Syrian settlement, the healthy competition between the two sites, will allow to eventually identify the most demanded formulas for discussing certain aspects of the Syrian «dossier», show the optimal combination of parties concerned, necessary to resolve the conflict in the conditions of a transforming world order, having features of polycentricity.
«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 «) 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 ), 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 , 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 No.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 .
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.
* organisation banned in Russia
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The article is deleted from the site!
The analogue — http://www.palestine.com/2016/06/jets-bomb-last-childrens-hospital-in-rebel-held-aleppo/
But this one is deleted too. Check out restored version here.
 In Oct, the Last Remaining Hospital in Aleppo Was Bombed Beyond Repair. These 3 Chicago Doctors Spent Time There. 17 November 2016 //
 Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015). 18 October 2016. UN Document S/2016/873-P.1.
(or search for the Document S/2016/873 here)
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2016. UN Document S/2016/873-P.19.
see footnote#10 — http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2016/873
 Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015). 18 October
2016. UN Document S/2016/873-P.19.
see footnote #10 — http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2016/873
 Eastern Aleppo Without Any Hospital for More Than 250.000 Residents. 20 November 2016 //
 Taking Sides: The United Nations’ Loss of Impartiality, Independence And Neutrality in Syria / The Syria Campaign. 14 June 2016 (14.61 490 (E) 021014) //
 Anderson T. Syrian Women Denounce USAID Funded «White Helmets» in Syria / T. Anderson // Global Research. 2016. June 9.
 Beeley V. «White Helmets»: New Breed of Mercenaries and Propagandists, Disguised as «Humanitarians» in Syria / V. Beeley // Global Research. 2015. September 2.
 Wintour P. Russia Accused of Deliberately Targeting Civilians in Syria / Wintour P. // The Guardian. 2016. 15 January.
 Fake News Alert: CNN Finally Admits «White Helmets» Staged Fake Video. 27 November 2016 //
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in Aleppo. New York, 13 December 2016 //
 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in Aleppo. New York, 13 December 2016 //
 The letter of OHCHR dated December 12, 2016 addressed to the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria S. de Mistura, sent to the Permanent Mission of Russia to the United Nations in Geneva.
 Peopleare sending their final goodbyes from within Aleppo //
 Comment by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zaid Ra’ad al Hussein, Geneva, 14 December 2016 //
 The implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) и 2332 (2016). Report of the Secretary General. The document of the UN Security Council. January 20, 2017. S/2017/58 P. 14.
(or search for the Document S/2017/58 here)
 Situation of Human Rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. Resolution Adopted by the Human Rights Council at its Seventeenth Special Session. 22 August 2011
// UN documents S-17/1
 Statement by the Independent International Comission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on the Situation of Civilians Affected by the Capture of
Aleppo. 14 December 2016 //
 Russia: Broken Promises for Investigations. February 19, 2016 / Human Rights Watch. 19 February 2017 //
 Breaking Aleppo. Atlantic Council Publications. February 2017 //
 The Ministry of Defense: the accusations of the Russian Federation in the report of the «Atlantic Council» on Aleppo have long been refuted. February 14, 2017 //
(english version here)
 The implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) и 2332 (2016). Report of the Secretary General. The document of the UN Security Council. January 20, 2017. S/2017/58 P. 14.
see note #25 — http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2017/58
 Hille K., Solomon E., Saleh H. Russia’s Regional Influence Grows With Syria’s Success/ K. Hille, E. Solomon, H. Saleh // Financial Times. 2017. 19 January.
 ISSG Progress on Access: Overview of inter-agency assistance provided to UN designated besieged locations in Syria (as of 5 October 2016).
 Nebehay S. U.N. Wants Russia to Agree «Workable Humanitarian Pause» in Aleppo / S. Nebehay // Reuters. 11 August 2016.
 Syrians must not be forced out of Aleppo, UN says. 23 July 2016 //
 International Criticism over Russian «Humanitarian» Plan in Aleppo. 30 July 2016 //
 Shoigu announced the launch of a large-scale humanitarian operation in Aleppo on July 28, 2016 //
 Syria: UN considers role in Russia’s ‘deeply flawed’ humanitarian corridors plan // The Guardian. 2016. 5 August.
 Speech of the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoy before media representatives. 10.08.2016 //
original in Russian — http://function.mil.ru/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12092560@egNews
 The Ministry of Defense announced its intention to make a 48-hour «humanitarian pause» in Aleppo. 18 August, 2016 //
 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.
 (text written in Arabic) 25.8.2016
see a photo from the book here.
 (text written in Arabic) 26.8.2016
see a photo from the book here.
 Sanchez R. UN Says Armed Syrian Groups Blocking Aleppo Aid For «Political Gain» / R. Sanchez // The Telegraph. 2016. 12 September.
 Aleppo Municipal and Provisional Elections. 2 March 2013 //
the original link that Maria Khodynskaya-Golenischeva gave in her book — deleted from the website.
check out restored version here.
 Imbert L. A Paris, des Elus pro-Assad Ciblent les Casques Blancs Syriens / L. Imbert // Le Monde. 2016. 19 Octobre.
 Remarks by President Donald Tusk After His Meeting With Brita Hagi Hasan, President of the Local Council of Eastern Aleppo. 15 December 2016 //
 Media Statement by the Offcie of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura. Geneva, 27 August 2016 //
 Lema L. Quand Le Cynisme Rend Impossible Toute Courte Trevea Alep / L. Lema // Le Temps. 2016. 30 Aout.
 Illegal Armed Formations.
 Ismail A. Hundreds Are Wounded In Besieged Aleppo and Need Evacuation, UN Says / A. Ismail // Huffingron Post. 2016. 29 September.
 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 //
 Humanitarian pause in Aleppo will be prolonged on October 20 for 3 hours. 19 October 2016 //
 The General Staff announced the extension of the humanitarian pause in Aleppo until October 22. 21 October 2016 //
 Transcript of Joint Stakeout by UN Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura and UN Senior Adviser Mr. Jan Egeland. Geneva, 20 October 2016 //
 Under-Secretary-General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien, Statement on Syria. New York, 24 October 2016 //
 Correspondence of civilians living in the eastern part of Aleppo.
 Center for Rapid Responce to Violations of the CoH (Geneva Cell) / Interoffice Memorandum. 5 December 2016. Reg. No 140.
 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)
 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
 Center for Rapid Responce to Violations of the CoH (Geneva Cell) / Interoffice Memorandum. 22 November 2016. Reg. No 116.
 Under-Secretary-General For Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O’Brien, Statement On Syria (New York, 24 October 2016) //
see footnote #56
 The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation began broadcasting the exit of militants from Aleppo. 20 October 2016 //
 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 #60
 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)
 Syrian Arab Republic. Statement From the Revolutionary Groups Approving the United Nations’ Humanitarian Initiative. 20 November 2016 //
 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
 Transcript of Press Stakeout with Jan Egeland, Special Advsor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, 24 November 2016 //
 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
 The necessary requirements for the evacuation of civilian activists and humanitarian workers from the besieged part of East Aleppo. UN Working Paper of 4
 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 //
 De Mistura to SvD: «Very Bad Guerilla War If Aleppo Collapses» //
the current version of the SvD site does not allow you to read the article, requiring either registration, or subscriptions (with mandatory involving of a debit card) — in general, in every way prevents free access to information. But it’s possible to find old (very first) version of the article, available for free — take a look here.
 25 September 2016. Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Syria, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura //
 Staffan de Mistura. Special Envoy for Syria. Briefing to the Security Council on the Situation in Syria. 7 October 2016 //
 Meeting with President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 10, 2016 //
english version here.
 Ryabkov S. The Russian direction: the Obama administration leaves after itself just ruins / S. Ryabkov // International Affairs. 2016. December. P. 7.
 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 //
english version here.
 Key foreign policy outcomes for 2016 //
 «Zurich format» — nonpublic Russian-American interdepartmental consultations on various aspects of the Syrian settlement, held regularly in 2016 in Switzerland.
 RCH — the Regime for the Cessation of Hostilities
 Statement of the International Syria Support Group. Munich, February 12, 2016 //
 Comparative Analysis of Russia-US Agreement Implementation by the Parties. Russia’s MFA/MOD Paper. October 2016.
 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.
 (written in Arabic) 25.8.2016
see a photo from the book here.
 (written in Arabic) 26.8.2016
see a photo from the book here.
 (written in Arabic) 2016
see a photo from the book here.
 US military admits it mistakenly targeted and killed loyalist Syrian forces // The Guardian. 2016. 29 November.
 UAV — unmanned aerial vehicles
 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. //
 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 //
 UN officials condemn attacks against aid convoy and ware house in rural Aleppo. 20 September 2016 //
 Syria: UN/SARC convoy hit in Urum al-Kubra, northwest of Aleppo city. 19 September, 2016. Statement by ERC Stephen O’Brien //
 Secretary-General denounces deliberate attack on UN-SARC aid convoy. 20 September 2016 //
 Independent International Commission Of Inquiry On The Syrian Arab Republic Statement on Convoy to Orum al-Kubra, Western Aleppo 20 September 2016 //
 Russian planes dropped bombs that destroyed UN aid convoy, US officials say // The Guardian. 2016. 20 September
 Remarks at the Council Session on Syria. Remarks John Kerry, Secretary of State, United Nations Headquarters. New York City. September 21, 2016 //
 Heather Nauert: The United States is outraged by reports that a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed near Aleppo today //
 Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Syria Board of Inquiry. New York. 21 October 2016.
 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.
 Aftermath of Airstrike on Syria Aid Convoy — Video //
 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. //
see footnote #89.
 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at a joint press conference following talks with French Minister of Foreign Affairs and
International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault, Moscow, October 6, 2016 //
 «Russia Calling!» Investment Forum VTB Capital. October 12, 2016.
 Secretary Kerry Meets French Foreign Minister Ayrault. 7 October 2016 //
 Security Council. Seventy-first year. 7785th meeting. 8 October 2016. UN Documents S/PV.7785.
enter S/PV.7785 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Security Council. Seventy-first year. 7785th meeting. 8 October 2016. UN Documents S/PV.7785.
enter S/PV.7785 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Foreign Ministry statement in connection with Russia’s veto of the French-proposed UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria on October 8, 2016
 Security Council. Draft Resolution. 8 October 2016. UN Document S/2016/846.
enter S/2016/846 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Syria War: Rebels Behead 12-Year-Old Boy on Video. 20 July 2016 //
 Materials prepared by the Russian military and containing data on anti-government groups in Aleppo, were distributed by S.V. Lavrov during the meeting of
the «Narrow Group» on Syria at the ministerial level in Lausanne on October 15, 2016.
 Security Council. Russian Federation: Draft Resolution. 8 October 2016. UN Document S/2016/847.
enter S/2016/847 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Security Council. Russian Federation: Draft Resolution. 8 October 2016. UN Document S/2016/847.
enter S/2016/847 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Egypt, New Zealand and Spain: draft resolution. 5 December 2016. UN Document S/2016/1026.
enter S/2016/1026 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 25 September 2016. Security Council Briefing on the Situation in Syria, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura //
 Briefing thesises by the Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. December 9, 2016
(materials of the Ministry of Defense).
 Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the end of the first day of the OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Hamburg,
December 8, 2016
 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Vienna, July 14, 2015 //
 Transcript: Donald Trump’s Victory Speech // The New York Times. 2016. 9 November.
 Iraq: Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul / Amnesty International. 28 March 2017 //
 U.N. Syria envoy ‘deeply regrets’ suspension of U.S./Russia talks / Reuters. 3 October 2016 //
 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 //
 CNN Transcripts. State Department on Russia’s Halting Airstrikes in Aleppo. Aired October 18, 2016 — 07:30 //
 Ensor J., Alhaji Y. Civilians Fleeing Rebel-Held East Aleppo «Detained and Conscripted» by Syrian Forces / J. Ensor, Y. Alhaji // The Telegraph. 2016. 5
 Man Missing During East Aleppo Evacuation. Amnesty International. 20 January 2017 //
 Syrian Network for Human Rights. Syrian Regime and Its Militias Detained Civilians Evacuated From Aleppo’ Besieged Neighborhoods. Dec 16-SNHR //
 Working meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. The head of the military department briefed the President on the end of the operation to liberate the Syrian city of Aleppo. December 23, 2016 //
 ibid. (see footnote #126)
 Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. A live broadcast from the humanitarian corridor checkpoints in Syrian Aleppo is organized on the official website of the Defense Ministry //
 A reference on Russian efforts for humanitarian demining in the Syrian Arab Republic. February 15, 2017 // Center for rapid response to violations of the cessation of hostilities (Geneva).
 Maclean W., Finn T. Qatar Will continue to Arm Syria Rebels Even if Trump Ends U.S. Backing / W. Maclean, T. Finn // Reuters. 26 November 2016.
 This is more than 20 illegal armed formations: Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham, Ahrar Al-Sham, Faylaq al-Sham, Liwa al-Haq, Ajnad al-Sham, Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaysh al-Sunnah, Liwa al-Tawhid, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Muhajirin Wal-Ansar, detachments of FSA, Jabhat al-Asala Wal-Tanmiya, Liwa Sultan Murad, Liwa al-Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih, Kataib Turkoman Syria, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaysh al-Sham, Jund al-Islam, Jaysh al-Tahrir, Liwa Suqur al-Jabal, Al-Jabha al-Shamiyah.
 Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey on agreed steps to revitalize the political process to end the Syrian conflict, Moscow, 20 December 2016 //
 Svistunova I.A. Turkey and Iran in new geopolitical realities / I.A. Svistunova // Middle East and Modernity. 2016. No.50. P.151.
download the journal (in Russian).
 Tagiroglu M., Talebu B. Turkey and Iran: the Best of Frenemies / M. Tagiroglu, B. Talebu // Turkish Police Quarterly — 2015. Spring. P.122.
 Khanin V. Israel, Russia and Turkey: crossing vectors or a joint project? / V. Khanin // Middle East and Modernity. 2016. No.50. P.217.
download the journal (in Russian).
 In 2015, Iran was one of the ten largest trading partners of Turkey (8th place for import and 10th for exports).
 Meeting of Russian President V.V. Putin with Minister of Defense S.K. Shoigu and Minister of Foreign Affairs S.V. Lavrov. Moscow, December 29, 2016 //
 Statement on establishing the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic. December 29, 2016. UN Document S/2016/1133.
enter S/2016/1133 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Agreement on the mechanism to record violations of the ceasefire regime declared in Syria that will take effect on 30 December 2016, and on the regime for applying sanctions to violators. December 29, 2016. UN Document S/2016/1133.
enter S/2016/1133 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Agreement on establishing delegations to launch negotiations on a political settlement aimed at a comprehensive resolution of the Syrian crisis by peaceful means. December 29, 2016. UN Document S/2016/1133.
enter S/2016/1133 in «Symbol» field here and press Search.
 Meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. December 29, 2016 //
see footnote #137.
 Meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. December 29, 2016 //
see footnote #137.
 Free Syrian Army. General Comman and the Wadi Barada Valley Region. An Official Statement from the Revolutionary Military Factions in Wadi Barada Area. 2 January 2017; Official Statement of Wadi Barada Local Civil Society Entities. 31 December 2017.
 Bogaturov A. Modern international order / A. Bogaturov // Modern international relations and world politics / Ed. A.V. Torkunov. Moscow: MGIMO, 2004
 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.
 Gatilov: The United States is constantly changing its position on Syria. September 22, 2016. //
 Borodavkin calls for preserving all mechanisms for cooperation on Syria 09.02.2017 //