Today was the day that the US thought it could break Russia’s partnership with Syria and also with Iran. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer laid out the goals clearly yesterday. It was America’s ‘duty’ to break Russia away from countries like Syria, Iran and allegedly North Korea. It didn’t happen.
First of all, Russia and Syria are close partners. Secondly, North Korea is not a partner of Russia, but nor does Russia want renewed conflict in the Korean peninsula.
Most importantly, Russia does not care for the threats and bullying of the US. The US is trying to blackmail Russia whilst simultaneous trying to break the back of Syria. The goals are the same, only the tactics differ. It involves an arrogant America failing to recognise that other countries have opinions, sovereignty and geo-political interests and that those countries will not simply give those up because America desires it.
This is made all the more ironic by the fact that America’s opinions appear to be in constant flux.
1. Morning In Moscow
The day started with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov making it clear that Russia does not want any further US strikes on Syria.
If Sean Spicer and others thought that Russia would capitulate in the face of rhetorical US threats, Sergey Lavrov set the tone early on; this was not going to happen.
2. Russia Reaches Out To Her Middle East Partners
Lavrov’s clear statement was shortly followed by an announcement that far from breaking Russia away from her partners, Moscow today confirmed that in two days time, the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria will meet with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow to discuss what Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described as,
“… (a) trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, Syria and Iran will take place in Moscow. [The ministers[ will discuss measures needed to coordinate trilateral steps, so as not to let the situation aggravate and the efforts for a political settlement in Syria be derailed amid the US’ armed aggression against Damascus”.3. Russia Faces Off the US, UK and France at the Security Council
At the same time, during a heated session of the United Nations Security Council, Russia rejected a US/UK/French draft resolution on an investigation into the Idlib chemical attack that was ‘impartial’ in name only. The resolution pre-assigned blame and guilt to Damascus and Russia vigorously stood up to the hypocrisy implicit in this proposal.
4. T. Rex Finally Meets Putin
It was also announced, during the afternoon that Rex Tillerson and Sergey Lavrov had met with Preisdent Putin. The meeting was not officially scheduled, yet not entirely expected as Tillerson had preivously met Vladimir Putin during the former’s capacity as a the CEO of Exxon. Many felt the meeting would almost certainly be off the table in light of America’s recent illegal attack on Syria. The meeting happened anyway, albeit behind closed doors.
5. Sergey Lavrov Dominates A Press Conference With Rex Tillerson
The day concluded with a joint press conference with Sergey Lavrov and Rex Tillerson.
Lavrov repeated the sentiments of Russian UN Envoy Vladimir Safronkov in saying that instead of conducting a proper, neutral invetigation, the US unilaterally blamed the attack on Damscus. Lavrov said that Russia has other facts. Nevertheless, Russia does not seek to impose any preconceptions, rather, Russia simply wants an honest investigation.
He went on to say that Russia will only resume the memorandum of cooperation on air security in Syria if Washington agrees that the objective of all air operations are conducted in order to fight al-Nusra Front and ISIS.
According to Lavrov, both countries have publicly expressed an intention not to interfere in the internal affairs of Syria. The negative example of Libya and Iraq should be ‘a warning to us all’. He accurately went on to describe Iraq as a disaster and Libya’s statehood as being in jeopardy.
Lavrov emphasised that the lessons of history must not be forgotten. He cited the example of NATO’s actions in Yugoslavia as a war crime insofar as civilian residences were bombed in addition to bridges, trains a television studio and the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. There was of course, no legal authorisation for the attack.
The differences between Russia and American views on Syria were fully on display in spite of diplomatic rhetoric from both sides. Lavrov said that the White Helmets are well known as fraudsters and that other non-governmental sources in Syria are well known to provide inaccurate information.
By contrast, Tillerson was insistent that President Assad was behind the recent chemical attack.
Lavrov nevertheless pledged that the gap between the US and Russia isn’t as large as many would assume, stating that,
“Even though we have a large number of artificially created problems…we are open to having dialogue with the US in many different areas and to work together…in areas that will serve both our countries”.In respect of Assad himself, Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s view that a single individual is not the question but rather, that Syria must learn to once again function in a manner that is peaceful, secular and non-discriminatory to any religious or ethnic minorities.
For his part, Tillerson said that at this time, the evidence sufficient to prove Assad has engaged in war crimes is not sufficient.
Lavrov emphasised the need to cooperate on implementing the 2015 Minsk agreement in respect of Donbass and the relationship of Donetsk and Lugansk to Kiev and also stated that using a political process to remove nuclear weapons from North Korea was a goal of both parties.
Throughout the press conference Lavrov appeared composed, serious and calm. Tillerson while diplomatic appeared somewhat worn out from the experience.
It was a powerhouse day for Russian diplomacy. By any objective standard Russia outwitted, outclassed and out debated the US and its allies.
If that was the end of the story, the world could breath a collective sigh of relief.
However, with the threats of unilateral and illegal US actions in both Syria and North Korea looming, it is too early for anyone concerned with world peace to relax.