Vladimir Putin has met with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, for the second time in six months. Prior to Kerry's arrival, announcement was made of support for the 'Syrian Free Army'. However, experts expect no swift progress in settling the Syrian crisis.
Kerry's third meeting with Putin
US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Moscow for his second visit in six months. His program in Moscow includes talks not only with his Russian opposite number, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, but also with President Putin. This will be Kerry's third meeting with Putin. The first was in May 2013, when Kerry came to Moscow against a background of worsening relations between the USA and Russia. Their most recent meeting was in Sochi, in May this year. The Sochi meeting between the Russian President and the US Secretary of State lasted nearly four hours.
High-level follow-up contacts continued after their most recent meeting. US President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin held their first talks for two year, and then took the opportunity to discuss matters further 'on the sidelines' of the recent Antalya G20 meeting, and again at the Paris Climate Change conference in November.
A source within the US Administration — for the Politico website – reveals that the mood on Capitol Hill has now swung around towards supporting cooperation with Russia. The tone of the discussions is described as 'neither friendly nor acrimonious', and 'business-like' in nature. Politico claims Kerry personally favors holding such talks. It can't be ruled out that Russia's military intervention in Syria has won it a seat at the negotiations table. Putin has assembled facts that the rest of the world must deal with, claims Andrew Weiss from the international Carnegie Centre.
It would have been dilatory to miss the opportunity of high-level talks as a route to solving the burning conflicts. This was stated on Friday by White House spokesman Josh Ernest, by way of explaining why President Obama has decided to participate in direct talks with President Putin, and why Kerry is doing likewise.
The future of President Assad
The situations in both Ukraine and in Syria have been discussed in all of the American administration's talks with Putin, with the content of the meetings being passed on to the Kremlin and the White House. This was when Ernest unveiled a similar agenda. Kerry's priority will be to convey the US President's concern that Russia has failed to fulfill its Minsk Agreement obligations. Russia's support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine “destabilizes the nation and undermines its territorial integrity,” as Reuters reported the White House spokesman's words. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov drew attention last week to Kiev's failures in meeting its obligations.
Meanwhile in Syria, the American side says that Russia should be focussing on the struggle against ISIL. Washington is also suggesting that Russia should formally join the US-led coalition against Syrian terrorism. Putin, however, suggested that the United States and other countries form a fresh coalition which would take action in Syria under a UN mandate. The facts that first the USA is making attacks in Syria with no international mandate, and second that these attacks are not ratified by the Syrian government, are what prevents Russia from participating in any American-led coalition, FM Lavrov explained last week in a press conference held in Italy.
#Lavrov: Mr Kerry and I have agreed that we need a legal framework for the Vienna agreements— MFA Russia (@mfa_russia) December 16, 2015
During his Moscow trip, Kerry will be outlining the prospects for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. The issue is being explored in numerous spheres and various formats. On 18 December the USA plans holding meetings in New York involving the main interested parties from all sides – to work on setting up negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime, which are due to commence next year. Agreement on this was reached on 14 December in Vienna under the aegis of the International Support Group for Syria.
To make such negotiations possible, there is a prior need to establish a united Syrian Opposition group. Such a process has already evoked a caustic response from Moscow. Meetings were held last week in Saudi Arabia – but the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out that many of the essential groups for the meeting failed to attend. One example was that Turkey prevented the Kurdish delegation from attending.
President Assad spoke out against collaboration with those who had gathered in Riyadh. In a press release to Islamic media organizations, Assad said he opposed all negotiation with terrorists. Moscow went along with this viewpoint – since the attendees at the Riyadh talks included such organizations as Ahrar ash-Sham, and Jaish al-Islam. “We remain convinced that plain-clothes terrorists must be excluded from the Syrian political process,” a Moscow governmental statement read. Yet there has still to be any agreement among the negotiation organizers as to any kind of list of organizations who are rated as terrorists.
As the conflict in Syria spirals into ever-increasing complexity, Russia and the US are making all attempts to prevent clashes, or conditions that might result in mid-air collisions in the sky over Syria, says Fyodor Lukyanov – Presidium Chair of Russia's Foreign & Defense Policy Council. Lukyanov went on to say that this issue dominates all discussions between the leaders of the two countries. He further commented that the situation is reaching breaking-point, and both sides need to make announcements about military successes in their Syrian campaigns – but these are unlikely to lead to any breakthroughs in the political process due to conflicting interests of regional partners, such as Turkey and its recent attack on Russian forces.
The Tuesday meetings could bring solutions for specific issues – particularly those about dealings with the moderate opposition, and a clarified American position on Turkey's military presence in Iraq. However, major breakthroughs will not be quickly achieved, and as the situation stands presently there is no point in waiting for them, believes Boris Dolgov, an expert from the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.