I would argue that, at least so far, Russia has achieved many important goal in her intervention in Syria.  Most importantly, the Russian intervention in Syria forced the USA to agree to a conference in which all the regional actors, including Iran, would be invited.  At the end of its proceedings the conference adopted a joint statement which I have fully reposted here: http://thesaker.is/joint-statement-final-declaration-on-the-results-of-the-syria-talks-in-vienna-as-agreed-by-participants/

I believe that this statement represents a major diplomatic defeat for the USA and yet another Russian diplomatic victory.  Here some points which have been agreed upon (with relevant section of the declaration indicated in brackets):

  • Iran will participate in the negotiations about the future of Syria (preamble)
  • Syria will not be allowed to break up (#1)
  • Syria will not be ruled by a religious regime (#1)
  • The Syrian military will not be disbanded (#2)
  • Daesh and other terrorists must be defeated (#6)
  • The Syrian people will get to chose their leader (#8)

Now let’s translate that into political terms and see what this implies.

  • The USA has failed to isolate Iran whose crucial role is now recognized by all
  • The USA will not be allowed to partition into a Wahabistan and an Alawistan
  • None of the factions supported by the US (all being religious) will be allowed to rule
  • The Syrian military (which is solidly pro-Assad) will not be disbanded or disarmed
  • All the factions supported by the US (all being Wahabi extremists) must be militarily defeated
  • Assad will be allowed to remain in power (since he is by far the most popular leader)

Now, I am not stupid or naive to believe for one second that the USA will truly abide by these terms.  Quite to the contrary.  All I am saying is that Russia has inflicted yet another massive diplomatic defeat on the USA similar to the one Lough Erne or to the Minsk-1 and Minsk-2 Agreements.   In Lough Erne, for example, the USA had to accept the following statement: “We call on the Syrian authorities and opposition at the Geneva Conference jointly to commit to destroying and expelling from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to Al Qaeda, and any other non-state actors linked to terrorism.”  In other words, Daesh-linked Wahabis were told to join forces with the Syrian military to defeat Daesh!  Of course, we all know that this did not happen.  But what is important here is that the US actions and policies are so indefensible that the USA has to condemn or, at least, contradict them, in any public forum.

Let me repeat this once more: what the US is doing on the ground, in reality, is in complete and total contradiction with the declaratory policy of the USA:

US actions/policies/goals US official policy on Syria
Full military support for Daesh Categorical opposition to Daesh
Promotion of a Wahabi regime Promotion of a secular regime
Breakup of Syria Maintaining a unitary Syria
Destruction of the Syrian military Maintaining the Syria military
Removal of Assad at any cost Syrian people get to elect Assad
Sabotage of all Russian efforts Collaboration with Russia
Regime change in Iran Iran as a partner

While, at least so far, the USA has been successful in doing the exact opposite of what it has been declaring, this becomes extremely difficult once the Russian military is directly involved.  This was best illustrated by the surreal moment when following US accusations that Russia was bombing the “wrong” guys the USA refused to give Russia a list of bad guys and a list of good guys.

This tactic, to force the USA to formally agree to something which they oppose is also what Putin used in the Minsk-2 Agreement where the Russians basically forced the USA and its puppet regime to accept a dialog with the Novorussians even though such a dialog is absolutely out of the question.  This is what Russia is doing now: forcing the USA to negotiate with Assad and Iran.

Russia’s declared policies and actions in contrast, are as simple, straightforward and in full conformity with each other: defeating terrorists, support the legal Syrian government, uphold international law.  In Russia’s case, there is no need to hide anything and, in fact, the Russians have been amazingly transparent about their operations.

For years now the USA has been dreaming of doing to Assad what was done to Hussein and Gaddafi and they most definitely have the military might to do so: what they are discovering, to their great distress, is that Russia is capable of defeating US plans by skillfully using a mix of intense diplomacy and limited military efforts.  So far, the US have not found a way of coping with this situation.

On the military front the situation remain, at best, complex.  The best reports about the combat situation that I have found so far are, yet again, on Colonel Cassad’s website.  To make a long story short and in sparing you all the details battle by battle, it appears that the Syrian Army is making slow progress on many directions, but it has been unable to capitalize on the Russian airstrikes and these modest tactical successes have not produced any operational breakthroughs.  In simple terms: the government forces are struggling very hard to achieve even modest progress.

I am, by the way, in no way blaming the Syrians for that.  The frontlines are long, convoluted, the Wahabis are well dug in, the Russian air force contingent is very small and can only do so much.  One Russian expert declared today that he believes that the Syrian military lost about 85’000 men since the war began.  If that is true, it would explain, at least partially, the fact that the Syrians are over-stretched and are having a hard time concentrating enough forces in one location to achieve a breakthrough.

Still, it is quite possible that the combined efforts of the Russians and the Syrian will eventually yield an operational success and that the Daesh forces will suddenly collapse, at least on one section of the front.  The problem with that is that both sides are in a race for time: the next round of negotiations is scheduled in two weeks already and, so far, neither side as much to show to come to the negotiating table in a position of strength.  Apparently, the Americans are planning some kind of attack on Raqqa, and they want to use primarily Kurdish forces.  If so, then this is a rather bizarre plan.  After all, why would the Kurdish forces agree to such a dangerous and potentially costly (in terms of equipment and lives) operation far away from their own zones which they must protect on more or less all directions?!  In comparison, the Russian plan of unblocking the Syrian military and helping it reconquer Aleppo and the key highway linking Damascus to Homs and Aleppo appears much more realistic, if full of potential difficulties.  If the Syrians fail to achieve these goals in the next 2 weeks, then this will immensely complicate the upcoming negotiations and might forces Iran and Hezbollah to commit a much larger force to relieve the Syrian Army.

The next couple of weeks will be crucial.

The Saker

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