The announcement by the Russian Federation that it is for the moment withdrawing its main forces from Syria, having largely accomplished its fraternal mission, has left the imperialist media almost as stunned and incoherent as they were when the Russian intervention first began at the end of September last year.
Risible efforts by some to pretend that Moscow’s exit is intended as a ‘slap on the wrist’ for President Bashar al-Assad rival in crass stupidity their earlier claims that Moscow’s entrance on the scene was ‘strengthening Islamic State’ (IS). What Russia’s ability to make this limited withdrawal really underlines is just how far Syria’s enemies have been scattered in the past six months and just how much progress has been made on the road to a peaceful resolution of this agonising conflict.
All that stands in the way now is the obstinacy of the West and its hirelings.
Before the Russian intervention last September, requested by the government in Damascus, the Syrian Arab Army had fought an unequal battle as wave after wave of western-backed foreign mercenaries swept over the borders to wage a brutal proxy war against the progressive, secular and anti-zionist nation of Syria. Syria struggled on against huge odds, assailed all the while not only by the lethal export of terror from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, but also by the most fascistic campaign of vilification of the country and its leadership.
Yet even in their darkest hours, the unity and steadfastness of the Syrian people, fraternally assisted by Hezbollah and Iran and supported diplomatically by Russia, proved unbreakable.
Ceasefire: the West backs down
When the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) met in Munich on 11-12 February, all the parties present signed up to the full implementation of the ceasefire called for by United Nations Security Council resolution 2254, agreed on 18 December at a time when the proxy forces were everywhere on the run and the Syrian Arab Army was advancing inexorably.
The ISSG “reaffirmed their readiness to carry out all commitments set forth in the resolution, including to: ensure a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on the Geneva Communiqué in its entirety; press for the end of any indiscriminate use of weapons; support and accelerate the agreement and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire; facilitate immediate humanitarian access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas and the release of any arbitrarily detained persons; and fight terrorism”.
Remarkable by its absence in the text is any reference to a demand that the legitimate president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, must step down as a precondition. Yet the insistence on such a precondition has been erected as an impassable obstacle to peace on every previous occasion. There is nothing here that the government in Damascus would not have been happy to help implement at any time in the past five years.
Another remarkable feature of the ISSG statement is a new readiness to recognise that Islamic State is not a lone phenomenon but just one of a rash of terrorist gangs. “The ISSG members agreed that a nationwide cessation of hostilities must be urgently implemented, and should apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra, or other groups designated as terrorist organisations by the United Nations Security Council.” (Full text: communiqué of the ceasefire plan in Syria, Reuters, 12 February 2016)
It was not long ago that an ‘anti-IS’ militia unit being trained up by the US was sent into Syria, only to be captured by al-Nusra, mistakenly thought to be on side at the time. By explicitly excluding such groups from the ceasefire arrangements, this ISSG statement effectively validates what Damascus and Moscow have been saying all along, and gives the green light for the continued prosecution of the war against the terrorists concurrent with the ceasefire.
When it is remembered what a rogues’ gallery the ISSG encompasses, including the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey, as well as the key imperialist players, the West’s climbdown is all the clearer. Damascus promptly accepted these terms, noting that it would coordinate with Russia to decide which groups and areas would be covered by the ceasefire, stressing the importance of sealing the borders and halting foreign support for armed groups.
What a turn around from the first four years of the proxy war, when Washington’s sole interest in diplomacy was to bombard the UN with resolutions demanding the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad as a non-negotiable precondition for any diplomatic solution!
Whilst drowning public opinion in a sea of crocodile tears, US imperialism kept on fuelling this cruel conflict, which has killed and maimed so many thousands of Syrian citizens, and driven millions from their homes. Now, suddenly, Washington has rediscovered diplomacy, and is gingerly embracing the notion of a peace without ‘regime change’ as a precondition.
To sum up, the decision by the government in Damascus last September to request assistance from the Russian Federation has completely transformed the situation in every way.
Militarily the coordinated strategy of the Syrian and Russian forces has decisively turned the tide against the imperialist proxy armies, with daily reports of significant gains across the country, most notably in recent days the liberation of Palmyra and, as we go to press, the liberation of Al-Qaryatayn one week later. These victories are of tremendous strategic importance as they cut off jihadi supply lines.
In propaganda terms, the successes of the Russian airforce and Syrian Arab Army, rooting out IS, al-Nusra and other terrorist pests, have thrown a glaring light on the failure of the US-led invasion forces to make any comparable gains over a much longer period, causing many to start doubting the real purpose behind US airstrikes.
And diplomatically, whilst February’s ceasefire deal was for form’s sake announced as a joint US/Russian initiative, it is clear as day that it is Russia that has from the first been in earnest about seeking a peaceful and just outcome, whilst it is alone the rout of its proxy forces on the battlefield, the destabilisation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey and the cracks appearing in the imperialist alliance that have combined to bring Uncle Sam kicking and screaming to Geneva.
One analyst summed up the military situation succinctly. “Aleppo is the key to this war. If Assad’s forces can succeed in retaking Aleppo, this war is effectively over. IS may control much of eastern Syria, but there are no large cities in eastern Syria on the scale of Damascus, Homs, or Aleppo. These three cities form the core population, and are now nearly all safely in Assad’s control.”
The same commentator suggested that Russia has deployed its S400 state of the art anti-aircraft system in about a dozen locations in Syria, enabling Russian missiles to bring down anything invading Syrian airspace. (This enormous victory over IS is causing sheer panic for Turkey and Saudi Arabia!, Wealth Watchman, 17 February 2016)
A recent statement by the Communist Youth of Syria welcomed the transformation on the ground effected by Russia’s entry into the conflict. “We recognise that Russia is now a capitalist country, it is not the USSR anymore. But we also know that the actual enemy now is the US imperialism, which is what we must be against today.
“We consider the Russian intervention as a positive intervention because it gave and is still giving the Syrian army and the people of Syria more and more power against the organisations fighting our people and our army.
“From the beginning of this military intervention, it has been legitimate because it was the Syrian government who invited Russia to interfere. So we cannot call it an invasion or attack. It has been very helpful.
“From the very beginning of it, there had been many positive activities, important progress for the Syrian army. Also, a similar role has been played by Hezbollah and Iran. We have received supporting military activities, supporting positions for the Syrian army and for the Syrian people.
“We consider that all of this until now has been very positive for us, since it has been a support for struggling against the imperialist attack.” (Communist Youth of Syria: ‘We will never give up’, International Communist Press, 9 February 2016)
And from the opposite end of the political spectrum, and all the more striking for that, have come these grudging admissions from Peter Oborne in the very reactionary Spectator magazine. Needless to say, for form’s sake they are laced with a ritual and somewhat half-hearted denunciation of “Assad’s atrocities”, yet the actual picture he paints is a million miles closer to the truth than is conveyed in the ignorant daubs foisted on an unsuspecting public by the likes of ‘left’ charlatans like Owen Jones.
Here’s what Oborne wrote: “My time in Aleppo coincided with the turning point in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s forces, with the help of Russian air power, cut off the line of supply from the Turkish border to the jihadist forces encircling the government-held areas of the city.
“Deprived of fresh fighters, guns and ammunition from their Turkish sponsors, al-Nusra and other groups encircling the city are, over the long term, doomed. Islamic State, which sells its oil through Turkey, will start to run short of money. Think of Stalingrad in 1942: the besiegers are now the besieged.
“When I returned to London I read in the newspapers that this turn of events was regarded as a calamity. Of course, it does depend on your point of view.
“Government-held Aleppo was under siege from jihadi forces until late last year. That was never reported. Now the areas of Aleppo held by the rebels are coming under siege. That is reported in the western press as a catastrophe, and has brought a concerned response from the British foreign secretary.
“Again and again I was asked: why is Britain supporting the terrorists? Western media rightly emphasise Assad’s atrocities [!]. But the Aleppans I spoke to regularly pointed out that under Assad’s regime women can walk alone down the street and pursue a career; that a broadly liberal curriculum is taught in the schools; that christians can worship at their churches and muslims in their mosques.
“These Aleppans have lived under siege from groups hell bent on the imposition of a mutant version of wahhabi Islam. They know that many of their fighters are foreigners whose ambition, encouraged by Turkish and Saudi sponsors, is to extinguish Aleppo’s tolerant culture and drive every last christian out of the city.
“These Aleppans have a point. When the history of the Syrian civil war is finally written, historians will indeed have to confront the question: why has it been British government policy to turn the ancient city of Aleppo into present-day Kandahar? (Aleppo notebook: the city’s terrorist besiegers will now be besieged by Peter Oborne, 13 February 2016)
In an attempt to conceal from view the stupendous achievements that have been made in the war against terror – the real one, that is, not the phony one waged by the US-led coalition in an extended bombing campaign which managed to leave IS et al virtually intact, focused as it was on wiping out Syrian infrastructure and conducting illegal surveillance operations – the imperialist lie machine has depicted the push to liberate Syria from foreign oppression as a humanitarian catastrophe.
Take, for example, the attempt to blame Russian fighter jets for a number of attacks on hospitals in February. When hospitals and schools in Azaz and Maarat al-Numan, near the Turkish border, reportedly came under fire, western media were quick to point the finger of blame at Russia. Yet throughout the week when the attacks happened, the Turkish army was pouring hundreds of artillery volleys across the border into the vicinity of the hospitals, and the US-led coalition was also active in the area.
Despite the lack of any evidence to support the allegations of Russian involvement in the destruction of hospitals, the tame western media slavishly parroted the lies. In response to claims by US army spokesman Colonel Steve Warren that Russia had bombed two hospitals in Aleppo, the Russian defence ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov pointed out that (a) on the day in question Russian aircraft were not active over the city, and (b) Russian surveillance data showed that two US warplanes had bombed Aleppo.
Needless to say, such alternative views commanded zero airtime in the imperialist media.
February’s campaign of misinformation, at its most intense in the period leading up to the ceasefire, was clearly aimed at hiding the fact that Syria, with assistance from the axis of resistance and, crucially, Russia, is well on the way to ending the reign of terror imposed by imperialism via its mercenary jihadist surrogates, thereby clearing the path towards a Syrian future to be decided by the Syrian people alone.
In fact, however, this reality cannot be hidden from the world.
The crucial role being played by the Russian Centre for Reconciliation in Khmeimim, Syria, is both as a watchdog to monitor compliance with the overall ceasefire and as a key agency to promote national reconciliation through local agreements. The centre’s activity helps clarify how the battle against UN-recognised terrorist groups like al-Nusra and Islamic State is being prosecuted with the utmost vigour by the Syrian government whilst simultaneously building local ceasefires on the ground. The centre helps to seal local ceasefire deals, sustain those reached with the leaders of armed ‘opposition’ groups and deliver humanitarian aid.
On 6 March, the centre reported that it continues to receive ceasefire applications as well as appeals from representatives of opposition forces for participating in discussions on a new Syrian constitution. Its press statement reported that in just one day, “preliminary agreements with elders of six towns located in the Damascus province have been achieved. The total number of towns, which joined the ceasefire agreements, remains 42. Thirty ceasefire application forms have been signed with leaders of armed groupings.”
So frustrated are the foreign terrorist forces by these green shoots of national reconciliation that IS militants have launched a headhunt against anyone daring to sign these local ceasefire agreements, whether village elders, local government officials or ‘moderate’ oppositionists who have chosen to lay down their guns.
The reconciliation centre has also exposed another desperate move by the terror gangs to take the heat off their tails. Head of centre Lieutenant General Sergey Kuralenko reported: “On 6 March 2016 several militants of Jabhat al-Nusra terror group repeatedly fired mortars at Turkish territory from the area near the Syrian settlement of Metishli.”
In his view, this ingratitude towards an indulgent benefactor has but one explanation: “The actions of militants are aimed at provoking the Turkish military units to return fire and bring their troops into Syria, which will inevitably lead to the disruption of the peace process.” (A similar twisted motivation might explain the recent car bombs detonated in Ankara, denounced by Turkey’s President Erdogan as the work of Kurds, but much more probably intended to serve as a pretext or spur for a ground invasion of Syria.)
The reconciliation centre also managed to expose another bizarre propaganda ploy before it could come into operation: “Staged clashes between two armed groups were filmed by terrorists near Narb-Nafsa settlement in Hama province.
“To add feasibility to what was happening, the militants used real firearms, Molotov cocktails and a variety of simulation tools. They plan to use the footage of the so-called ‘armed conflict’ … to accuse the Syrian army of violating the agreement of the cessation of hostilities.” (Al-Nusra militants in Syria shell Turkey to prompt return fire – Russian military, RT, 6 March 2016)
At every step of the way, Moscow is doing everything possible to make Washington play the part in the peace process to which it signed up in Geneva. The reconciliation centre in Khmeimim is in constant hotline communication with its US counterpart in Jordan.
Chief of staff Sergey Rudskoy told a press conference: “To exchange information with US colleagues, we’ve developed a map of the situation on the ground in Syria, and this map has been given to the US side during bilateral consultations on 26 February, and also via military and diplomatic channels. On this map, one can see the regions where the peace process is on, and also the areas controlled by IS, al-Nusra, or other armed groups.” (Russia stops all Syria airstrikes on areas and armed groups included in ceasefire – General Staff, RT, 27 February 2016)
And just in case the West still wants to throw around more groundless accusations about Russia targeting hospitals etc, it has been announced that 70 Russian drones will be monitoring the ceasefire. Working on the basis of ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’, Moscow is doing everything humanly possible to ensure that Washington delivers on its Geneva commitments.
Wag the dog
What Russia cannot guarantee, however, is the degree to which countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, for so long used as agents of destabilisation by the US, themselves become so unstable that their actions cannot even be predicted by their friends, let alone their enemies.
Erdogan’s simultaneous war of national oppression against the Kurds and domestic war of political repression in Turkey could yet tip the provocative build-up of its armed forces on the Syrian border into the actual boots on the ground that Erdogan has threatened.
Similar mad-dog foaming at the mouth has been displayed by US client-state Saudi Arabia, with a spokesman expressing eagerness to deploy its troops on the ground if the US-led coalition (ie, US imperialism) decided in favour of such an option.
The likely outcome for Turkey and Saudi Arabia of such rash behaviour would doubtless be as predicted by Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem: “Let no one think they can attack Syria or violate its sovereignty, because I assure you any aggressor will return to their country in a wooden coffin.” (‘Aggressors to return home in coffins’: Syrian FM warns against foreign ground op, RT, 6 February 2016)
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, hearing the threats from Riyadh, unkindly enquired of the Saudi armed forces: “I’m afraid to ask, have they already defeated everybody in Yemen?”
Indeed, the unbroken Houthi-led resistance in Yemen, heroically withstanding month after month of Saudi carpet bombing, has been a very helpful distraction from Washington’s obsession with Syrian regime change, earning the Houthis and other patriotic Yemenis allied with them a place of honour in the axis of resistance.
Meanwhile, imperialism’s earlier war crimes against the Libyan nation, bombing one of the most prosperous countries in Africa back into tribal chaos whilst Hillary Clinton gloated over the torture and murder of its legitimate head of state, has come back to haunt it.
The Serbian government, already facing mass protests over its decision to do a deal granting diplomatic immunity and free movement to Nato troops, is now challenged by the news that two of its embassy staff were among more than 40 slain in US airstrikes – supposedly against an IS-affiliated group in Sabratha, Libya. This can only harden public opinion against Serbia being used as a staging post for US imperialism.
The Serbian president is presently trying to face both ways, doing deals with Nato whilst congratulating Russia for its intervention in Syria, suggesting: “If it didn’t intervene, Syria would be a country of the so-called Islamic State.”
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, clearly rattled by the threat of a good example, now claims that Russia is trying to “intimidate its neighbours” and “divide Nato’s allies”, thereby obliging Nato to respond by beefing up its presence in the region. (Syria would be fully under IS control if not for Russia – Serbian president, RT, 8 March 2016)
Yet it is those self-same ‘divided allies’ that will be expected to pick up the tab for escalating US imperialist aggression around the world. Obama’s frustration with supposedly under-performing allies boiled over in a recent article published in The Atlantic magazine, in which the president complained of “what went wrong” after the overthrow of the Libyan government.
Obama told his interviewer: “There’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up.” He included David Cameron in his strictures, complaining that the PM became “distracted” from managing the Libya situation. He also complained about “free riders” in Europe and the Middle East, “people pushing us to act but then showing an unwillingness to put any skin in the game”. (Obama: Cameron was ‘distracted’ after Libya intervention, BBC, 11 March 2016)
In its struggle to defend a position of global dominance that cannot be justified by economic performance, and consequently can only be sustained through blackmail, arm-twisting and war, US imperialism will have many more such opportunities to rediscover the truth of 19th-century prime minister Lord Palmerston’s dictum: “Nations have no permanent allies, they only have permanent interests.”