by Finian Cunningham
It is no coincidence US Secretary of State John Kerry is at the same time pushing his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to accept some kind of American deal, purportedly for a ceasefire in Syria.
The details of this “deal” remain sketchy, but Washington has said it wants Syrian-Russian forces to “lift the siege” on the strategic city of Aleppo, as well as for American “core objectives” to be met. Presumably, the latter is a veiled reference to Russia acquiescing to a political transition in Syria involving regime change.
The ironies abound. For a start, Kerry and Lavrov are meeting in Geneva’s President Wilson Hotel. It’s named after Woodrow Wilson, the US president (1913-1921) who championed the right of small nations to self-determination, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The exact opposite of what Washington is doing in Syria.
More irony still. For two years, Washington and its European allies have vilified Russia for allegedly “annexing” Ukrainian territory. Yet, the United States and its NATO ally Turkey are flagrantly annexing swathes of Syria’s northern provinces, setting up no-fly zones and building walls along the border – and there is not a single mention in Western public discourse of this blatant “re-drawing of territory by force.”
The European Union has remained mute, while NATO civilian chief Jens Stoltenberg on a visit this week to Turkey endorsed the land grab under the guise of it being a “security measure.” This is in spite that neither Turkey nor the US has a legal mandate for their troops and warplanes operating in Syrian territory.
But beyond the double think and double standards with regard to Russia and Crimea, what this de facto annexation in Syria seems to be about is the US-led covert war for regime change in Syria has now become overt.
For months, Washington has been haggling with Russia over a political process in Syria, involving the supposed implementation of a ceasefire and a euphemistically termed“political transition.”
All the while though, the Obama administration has menacingly hinted at a ‘Plan B’ action if Russia does not go along with US political demands. Many observers have assumed that ‘Plan B’ meant some form of increased American military intervention, directly or indirectly through greater weapons supply to its proxy anti-government militias fighting in Syria.
Now it seems that ‘Plan B’ is indeed underway with US and Turkish forces occupying Syrian territory stretching some 90 kilometers from the Euphrates River westwards toward the town of Azaz, located near the battleground city of Aleppo.
Part of the obfuscation over this annexation is that it is referred to by Washington, Ankara and the dutiful Western news media as an “anti-terror operation.” US and Turkish forces are ostensibly “cleansing” the border area of terrorists belonging to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). But that objective is dubious, given that Turkey’s military has concentrated its efforts on pushing out Syrian Kurdish militants, who have been effective combatants against IS.
Also, the Syrian militias working with Turkish military forces comprise the so-called Free Syrian Army and Turkmen tribes, both of which are implicated in atrocities every bit as barbaric as IS and other Al-Qaeda-linked brigades. It was Turkmen militia, for example, who butchered two Russian servicemen during the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet last November.
According to Turkish media reports, Ankara and Washington are planning to extend the military incursion further into Syrian territory. Pentagon chief Ashton Carter has already held talks with Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik on how their joint forces can take the city of Raqqa. Again, the pretext is one of defeating IS terrorists, but the more important reality is that the US and Turkey are deepening their hold on Syrian territory.
Both Syria and Russia have expressed alarm at these developments, pointing to a grave violation of Syrian sovereignty.
A second related development was the high-profile launch this week in London of a “peace road map” by the so-called Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). Surrounded by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his counterparts from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the HNC put forward the same old proposition of a ceasefire, political transition and incumbent, elected Syrian President Bashar Assad to stand down.
A third pertinent issue was the announcement this week by the Obama administration that it was extending economic sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict. Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov reportedly chafed at that development in discussions with Kerry over Syria, saying that it was hardly conducive to productive dialog. It’s not conducive, it’s coercive.
Ahead of the talks this weekend in Geneva, Washington appeared to be equivocating in order to put more pressure on Russia. After Moscow declared the negotiations were going ahead, the US State Department declined to confirm Kerry’s attendance. Kerry reportedly showed up in the Swiss city late for the scheduled meeting with Lavrov.
Conveniently, the Washington Post reported that the US “patience was limited” for a deal with Russia over Syria.
“The Obama administration has told Russia that it is at the end of its patience in trying to arrange a ceasefire in Syria, along with proposed joint US-Russia counterterrorism operations, and that it expects a decision from Moscow in the next several days,” reported the Post.
A recap on reality is this: the US-led covert war for regime change in Syria is facing defeat. The Syrian Arab Army along with its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies have liberated more towns and suburbs around Damascus, and are now closing the net on the myriad terrorist militia holed up in eastern Aleppo.
Kerry’s febrile appeal to Russia is for the offensive on Aleppo to be halted, under the palatable-sounding terms of “ceasefire” and “humanitarian aid.” On the short-term, the “deal” is aimed at saving the necks of the US terror assets. On the longer-term, the aim is to get a political process going that would see Russia conceding to regime change.
Because Russia has up to now not fallen for this American trap, the military lever of ‘Plan B’ is looming into play, in the form of US and Turkish annexation of Syrian territory.
Unmistakably, this contingency conveys a reckless threat of all-out war with Russia. Desperate for its “core objective” of regime change in Syria, the US ultimatum to Russia is: ditch your Syrian ally or face war.