President Bashar al-Assad’s regular Syrian army aided by Lebanon Hezbollah fighters plus some Iranians, and of course under the air cover of Russia’s fighter jets last week pushed the ISIS murderers out of the ancient city of Palmyra. Reportedly, a Russian ground special force played also a role in this decisive battle, that probably constitutes a major downward turning point in the terrible existence of ISIS.
To be noted, that during the past few months, Russia has played a key role in changing the course of the war in favour of Assad, by targeting key elements of ISIS structures. Moscow also made sure that there can’t be a final political solution in the country without Assad in the picture. He authentically represents and stands for a large part of the Syrian population, the Alawites, a distinctively mild version of Shia Islam.
Assad to stay
These are some four millions souls of them, who would be under threat of extinction, if the murderous extreme Sunni forces of ISIS and the other Sunni groups, supported from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, would have prevailed. Both those last regional powers had sought Assad’s extinction. Had they been left undeterred, the Syria’s Alawites would have had a difficult time under a Sunni domination.
Palmyra then is not a win to offer Assad just a consolidation of his personal position in the picture. It’s a strategic victory for the regular Syrian army and more so for their Russian patrons, opening the way to target the ISIS capital Raqqa in the center of the country. It also proves that an effective combination of ground and air forces could a long time ago have deterred ISIS from expanding its destructive state.
Who fought ISIS?
This last observation means that the other side, that is the rebel or opposition forces supported by the Saudis, the Turks, the Americans, the French, the Belgians and practically by the entire West were not able or didn’t really want to severely threaten the ISIS existence. It’s now evident that the primary target of the opposition/rebel forces was not ISIS but Assad, and this not only for religious reasons. The anti-Assad alliance didn’t seek the extinction of ISIS – if they didn’t help it flourish – because it presented a good check for Assad.
What about the Kurds?
Apart from Assad and Russia, only the Kurds, who at the beginning fought alone a desperate war against ISIS, managed to resist its murderous force. After all that, the Americans finally understood that the Kurds were the only reliable ground military force that Washington could count on, in the fight against ISIS.
It seems then,l that from the very moment the Americans were convinced that ISIS could threaten even Bagdad, they decided to wholeheartedly support the quite effective Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and they also started contemplating to come to terms with Assad. A loss of Bagdad to ISIS, even for a few days, would have dealt a tremendous blow to the US political and military presence in the entire world.
That’s why the US has definitively decided that ISIS has to go. This means that the terrorist state has to be cornered and exterminated firstly in Syria, where it has established its headquarters and pursues its main activities. However, to accomplish this difficult task, the US needed more than the Kurds. The Syrian Kurds- and the much closer to the Americans Iraqi Kurds – cannot to do the job alone. Then Assad and Russia entered in the equation.
Understandably, the White House didn’t want to start a new war, with American boots on the deserts of Syria and Iraq, more likely because it would have cost very dear in lives and money. The fact that in November a new President will be elected must have also played an important role in the White House refusal to start a major ground US operation in the region. Such a prospect would surely damage the chances of the Democratic candidate to win the election, while it would have exasperated a possible Republican President.
For sure then the US had to find a way to drastically contain ISIS in Syria. Given that the Kurds couldn’t or probably wouldn’t undertake such a task alone, the US came to terms with the Russians. For a start, Washington accepted that Assad does not have to go, and instead he can play an important role in a final political solution.
Then came the Russians
Of course it’s not Assad with whom the Americans have to negotiate with. It’s the Russians who have supported and kept him in his position all along the war years. On top of that, Assad wouldn’t mind if the Russians got more from the Americans in the negotiation table, in exchange for a decisive containment or obliteration of ISIS by his own forces.
It’s pretty clear by now that nobody else, except Assad and the Kurds, really wanted the full destruction of ISIS. Very simply Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the West sat back and waited for Assad and ISIS to kill each other. Some of them even helped the rebels who fought just Assad not ISIS. But all that has changed now.
It’s not only Syria
The new arrangement may have two very important consequences. For one thing, the Russians may and actually have demanded more from the Americans, not necessarily regarding only Syria. For example, Moscow may have a lot to discuss with the Americans about Europe and Ukraine. Probably Moscow may also have even found the opportunity to press Washington to recognize that Russia is a world power and to stop secluding her.
All this is not unfounded guesswork. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week visited Moscow for a third time in five months, which made him a frequent traveler to the Russian capital. According to strategic analysts, just this fact can be considered as a proof of success of Russia’s foreign policy. Undoubtedly, this relates to the latest developments regarding both issues, where the American and the Russian interests collided, of course Ukraine and Syria.
It’s Ukraine too
Kerry had more than four hours talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Afterwards, they delivered a joint Press conference. The tone was visibly milder on both hot issues that present a strong interest for the two sides. Kerry even said that he “reached a better understanding of the decisions that President Putin has made of late.” This marks a full U-turn in the standard frosty climate between the two countries, which prevailed until now. There is more to it.
Some hours later, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, made some interesting comments about the US – Russia relations. He said that the Americans should do more than just accept that Assad should be part of the final political solution in Syria.
He explained that the US has to come to terms with two more prospects. First, he said the Americans have to recognize that Russia is a great power and this has to be reckoned with, when it comes to the other ex-USSR countries. Under this light, there should be a negotiation on Ukraine. Until today, the US had not accepted to speak with Russia about Ukraine. Peskov also stressed that the US should stop considering the EU-Russia cooperation, mainly with Germany, as a threat for American interests.
Moscow want more
Of course, this is all Moscow saying, but the last Kerry-Lavrov Press conference in Moscow was a major breakthrough in the US – Russia relations. Peskov simply set the agenda for the next discussions / negotiations between the two sides, given that the Americans seem ready to continue on this platform. In any case, it’s rather certain that Washington is gradually changing its policies in reference to Syria, Ukraine and also about isolating Russia.
Coming back to our main issue, the cornering of ISIS in Syria and Iraq may drive its cruel leaders to plan more terrorist attacks against EU countries. Paris and Brussels have already paid this deadly price. Not to forget also the downing of the commercial flight plane full of Russian tourists over Sinai last summer, when coming back from holidays in a Red Sea resort.
US, Russia care only about their interests
Unfortunately, both Kerry and Lavrov didn’t seem to mind (at least they didn’t say anything) about what their new policies may mean for the average man and woman in Europe. If ISIS is cornered in Syria, those butchers may and rather have already decided to extend their unholy business to Europe. The US and Russia obviously focus on what they can gain strategically from each other. They don’t seem to mind much about the repercussions of this horse trade. In conclusion, the US and Russia are cutting the EU out of their table.