Syria Daily: US Tries to Draw a Line with Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives to make a statement about a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister at the World Conference Center February 16, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool

US and allies signal effort to put UN, rather than Russia, at center of Syrian political process


The US has told allies that the Trump Administration is not moving towards cooperation with Russia in Syria’s six-year conflict.

At a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 conference in Germany, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said military ties with Russia rested on its position towards rebels fighting the Assad regime, according to officials and diplomats.

“In the discussion, he made it clear that there would not be military cooperation until the Russians accepted that not all the opposition are terrorists,” one diplomat said.

He also declared that the US backs UN efforts to broker a political solution to the war, officials and diplomats said. The approach should be based on Security Council Resolution 2254 — which called in December 2015 for a ceasefire and the start of a political transition — under the UN’s envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

Russia — along with Iran, the key backer of the Assad regime — and Turkey have taken the initiative from the US since summer 2016 by leading efforts for a nominal ceasefire and indirect talks between the regime and an opposition-rebel bloc. Discussions are scheduled for next week in Geneva.

Moscow has also been pressing for an alternative “opposition”, with politicians preferred by Russia, to represent the opposition at the talks. The effect has succeed in getting some of the alternative politicians on the 21-person opposition-rebel delegation named for Geneva.

However, preliminary talks in the Kazakhstan capital Astana on Thursday stumbled because of Turkey’s alignment with the opposition-rebel bloc that a meaningful ceasefire must be established before Russia can press for wider discussions, including on its proposed constitution for Syria.

See Syria Daily, Feb 17: Regime Blasts Turkey & Rebels Over Talks

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after Friday’s meeting, “We ask the Russian backer of the regime to put pressure on it so it stops considering that all the opposition are terrorists. Otherwise, there will be no discussion in Geneva.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tried to put the UN, rather than Moscow, at the center of the political process, “This political solution must be achieved in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations and that there cannot be any parallel negotiations.”

“The Russians are trying to pilot a separate process,” said one diplomat. “Geneva is an extremely fragile process and we want to avoid it being chaotic.”

UN Drops Term “Political Transition”

However, in a significant concession to President Assad, the UN has dropped the concept of a “political transition”.

Assad has rejected any transition, as it could involve his departure from power. He restated the position during the renewal of indirect talks between the regime and the opposition-rebel bloc in late January.

Yara Sharif, spokeswoman for UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, initially told a briefing in Geneva on Friday that the talks starting on February 23 would address transition.

However, she later sent an e-mail:

This morning at the briefing I was asked about the intra-Syrian negotiations and whether the issue of political transition would be discussed.

For clarification purposes, please note that the negotiations will be entirely guided by Security Council Resolution 2254, which talks specifically about governance, a new constitution and elections in Syria.

Resolution 2254 calls for a “political transition process on an urgent basis… with a view to a lasting political settlement of the crisis”, although its detail focuses on a new constitution, free and fair elections administered under UN supervision, and transparent and accountable governance.

Iran Rejects US Ground Troops in Syria

Iran has rejected any intervention by US ground troops in northern Syria.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, “We cannot commit to solutions that are part of the problem. I believe that the presence of foreign troops in Arab territory is a recipe for those extremists to rally behind and gain new fighters from disenfranchised youth.”

Reports in the US media, citing unnamed officials, said this week that the Pentagon is considering the first deployment of US conventional forces in the Syrian forces, working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State.

Zarif met Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Munich on Saturday. No details of the conversation were given by Iranian State media.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Brendan Smialowski/Reuters)

Related Posts

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. Tillerson has that deer-in-the-headlights look that must inspire a whole heap of confidence in the motley crew of JI-Joes he’s been bequeathed by the HoseBeest/Jonkharrie ‘diplomatic’ tag-team of doom.
    Maybe if they offered him a snifter of a few bottomless oil wells they could pique his interest?
    No, wait … IS has just set them all afire … sorry, but it’s “Game Over, man!

  2. Let’s wait and see what happens in the next few months. I’m confident that the US forces will have relaxed Rules of Engagement. We can expect the main stream media will be spewing their propaganda about civilian casualties. The Russian’s have shifted the paradigm of use of force (i.e. if there are hostile forces, they will be attacked quickly, regardless of potential for collateral damage.) The real question is what happens when ISIS is driven back underground. Any predictions?

  3. #Deraa: “Intense airstrikes on #Bosra_ash_Sham.” – CombatChris1
    As I mentioned previously: A) if regime indiscriminately targets civilians living in rebel-controlled areas rebels should permanently destroy oil/gas/water pipelines that supply regime-controlled areas. B) If regime escalates conflict in a province then start mass shelling (but using drones to guide such shelling) the airbases in that province so regime can’t bring in re-enforcements to that province. C) If regime uses civilians as human-shields then rebels should capture senior regime officer from Republican Guard/Hezbollah/IRGC, tie a captured blind-folded senior regime officer to a lamp-post on top of a building that is booby-trapped or to a lamp-post with hidden land-mines buried around him and then hide a rebel sniper nearby so when regime troops arrive there next day not only can those booby-traps/land-mines be activated by rebels but rebel sniper can also pick off any regime troops who escaped from first mine-trap. D) If regime imprisons women and children from rebel areas then launch a special-ops against a senior regime officer the next day. G) If Russian/regime jets targets hospitals in rebel neighbourhood then target regime check-points with a VBIEDs that has a hand-cuffed regime-officer as a passenger in that VBIED.
    Also don’t just have one front for the Russian jets to target (this is what will happen if rebels stay in one location for more then 48 hours – the Russians will just make that another Grozny), open up more using multiple (4 or 5 groups?) company size (ie 100 men) units to launch during night-time mobile (where rebels fight in and move to more then one neighbourhood/town/area in one day) operations (e.g. raids and ambush of weak regime positions during night-time) on multiple locations simultaneously. Such unexpected night-time raids/ambushes at unexpected locations (e.g. supply routes or isolated check-points) will cause regime troops at those areas to panic especially if rebels make their attacks on regime positions bigger then they are by storming it not only at night-time but from multiple directions with VBIEDs and motorbike units.
    As this map (see link below) shows if rebels want to launch an effective decoy offensive to divert regime fighters from their front-line with rebels the most ideal location for such a decoy offensive would be multi-axis (ie from multiple directions) mobile guerrilla operations in the Al-Kashef and Al-Qusoor districts. Why? Because it threatens the severing of the Ataman link which the regime will rely upon to bring in most of it’s re-enforcements from. However to attempt this successfully rebels would need to spearhead/lead such a decoy offensives using not only multiple (ie groups 4 or 5) company-sized (ie 100 fighters each) units but that these attack groups also be entirely mobile (ie light artillery is not only mounted on trucks, mortar/machine-guns/ATGMs having their own trucks but assault troops are on motorbikes) so they can attack more quickly also.
    In addition to this I would say now is the ideal time for Ataman to be infiltrated by rebels (ie. rebels wear uniforms and use the IDs of dead regime soldiers to get into regime positions a week before a general offensive) so when rebels decide to attack the airport district in Deraa these rebel sleeper cells can be activated on the same day.
    What would my ‘ideal tactical scenario’ be for rebels? That not only a mass number of rebel sleeper cells not only be activated in Ataman (which rebels had successfully infiltrated) on the same day rebels in Deraa launch a multi-axis assault on the airport district (which would panic the regime – that’s where most of the foreign fighters are flow in from) in which Russian jets can’t target rebels fighters because rebels and their VBIEDs (using their drones to guide the constant movements of rebel troops and VBIED through a drone?) are constantly (through drone surveillance?) ‘hugging’ multiple regime units Chechen-style (ie rebel fighters always one block of building behind/front of regime units) but that rebels are also on that day acquire ‘fire-control’ of the road connecting Ataman with Deraa and thereby cause regime to lose more vehicles in Deraa then they did at Ghab plain last year. Here’s the kicker – such a scenario is entirely plausible if rebels continue making progressing in Deraa for the next 12 days.

      • I ain’t Red Tornadoe, he’s a different poster. As for me believe it or not I’ve seen at least once or twice on pro-rebel twitter feeds (e.g. during the siege of Aleppo) some of my ideas not only being taken up by rebel groups but actually working (ie booby-trapping fridges/washing-machine) and at one point (scroll back to the November/December month) at least 200 regime troops got KIA because of it and probably that number also got WIA. My only regret was that rebels not take up that idea sooner so it’d be an entire regiment rather then a battalion of Assadists that got taken out of action.

  4. #Observation: 1) It isn’t enough that rebels should just adopt mobile guerrilla warfare but that in order to fight such a mobile warfare effectively rebels will have to make most of their army mobile or at least give the rebel troops they intend to use for ambushes/raids on regime positions greater mobility. What do I mean by mobile? Mobile (ie not fixed in one area but can be quickly moves from one theatre to another – this would require all light artillery to be mounted on vehicles, all mortar and light-machine gun units be given their own transport, giving all assault troops into a motorbikes, giving all battalion units 4/5 BMPs, mounting TOWies on dune-buggies) multiple small-units (battalion – 350+ men that each have their own ammo and fuel wagons that will supply them for 3 weeks then after which they must seize their own from the regime) that only fight short (ie no more then 48 hours) sharp (ie uses it’s ammo and men in a very focused/concentrated way to reach a very specific objective – this could be a check-point or building) raids on enemy positions that can be quickly isolated on multiple fronts. The success of this approach relies on stealth (which rebels can acquire through night-offensives and greater use of camouflage), speed (not only because their units have fewer logistical needs, due to their smaller size, so can mobilise quicker but also because their units, including the light artillery units, are mounted rebel can move from one area without being slowed down) and shock (so as long reconnaissance and infiltration of regime positions is done properly rebel’s would be able to attack unexpectedly all the time).
    2) It should be remembered that in war if one sides wants to always be surprising their enemy the following is often done – A) Hide/camouflage from their enemy (e.g. presence, information etc) any signs (e.g. radio comms, surveilling online activity, using drones to monitor rebel activity, looking from watch-tower during daytime rebel movements etc) that their enemy is looking for that will alert them to their moves (e.g. planned rebel ambush on a NDF check-point) by muting it (e.g. if rebels know regime is monitoring their comms and rebels need to organise an ambush then use pigeon carriers, if rebels know check-point guards are more alert at day-time then attack night, if rebels know regime uses drones in an area then not only camouflage their artillery/cars but move such equipment to different location every 3 days, if rebels know regime monitors social media to get attack coordinates on rebels then rebels should not only place 48 hours social-media reporting ban during offensives but also order rebel fighters to keep their smart phone in a different location of the regime area they’re going to attack etc).
    B) Making more visible to their enemy (e.g. presence, information etc) the signs rebels want regime to see/hear (e.g. fake radio comms between rebel commanders, using fake/dummy rebel tanks and artillery for regime drones to notice so rebels can trick regime into thinking rebels are still in the area, rebels fake increase in traffic activity towards an area – but in reality it’s the same group of trucks circling around and around – to trick regime into anticipating a rebel offensive from a particular direction by leaking rumours of that location through online social media activity, using captured regime informants to spread disinformation, pretend to accidentally leave fake-plans in buildings rebels know they must abandon to regime etc) regime to see so regime is too distracted to notice the real offensive rebels are planning.
    3) That all adult males living in rebel-control areas that knows how to drive and has a car should be automatically be indentured/conscripted into becoming for rebels. Why? So not only is there a spare driver for the Syrian White Helmets during emergencies but that during surprise rebel offensives/raids rebel commanders can not only call upon such drivers at a 24 hour notice to transport enough rebel troops to the front-line that no rebel unit needs to walk to the front-line by foot but that such a driver can also be used as an emergency ambulance driver if any rebel fighter gets wounded during a raid.

    • 4) Rebels should use captured regime informants to deliberately spread disinformation about rebel presence in an area to ambush not only regime scouts in that area but to capture even more regime informants (this can be helped by keeping a registry of civilians living in rebel areas, if a person found not on the list then chances are that person is a spy). Though for this to be successful in the long term rebels should create a permanent large centralised (ie one group with the skilled electrical technicians too) counter-espionage unit.

  5. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu
    I’ve often interpreted, and this is purely my subjective opinion, of Sun Tzu’s command of “knowing your enemy” as the following: If you can accurately predict (by probing, remembering and experimenting with in detail what particular thing or method regime weakly or strong re-acts to and then communicating it’s usefulness quickly to helpers) where, when and how your opponent is going to coordinate their (future?) actions against you then control, coordinate, concentrate (e.g. your resources/means) and time your response to their planned action so your opponent neither has the time (especially if they can be unexpectedly slowed down through artificial means – e.g. land-mined supply route) or place (because escape route is to risky to use?) to quickly escape and act (through quick re-organisation?) against you again in the near future. If you can do this then the odds of every confrontation is often in your favour but it’s a difficult ambition/goal to achieve. The enemy changes and you must too but in the end it always circle back to this goal of ‘knowing your enemy’ and not giving them the time to carry out their plans against you.
    #Observation: I’ll say this also if rebels want to minimise the damaging effect of losing experienced troops then it’d be wise for them to start creating ‘FAQs’ for not only all major weapons systems (e.g. ATGMs/machine-gunners/rifles/tanks etc) but in offensive and defensive tactics (e.g. how to storm a building or trench, how to defend a building or trench, the basics of using drones to range mortar shelling etc) too as well as teaching new recruits the weaknesses of regime troops/vehicles (e.g. which areas of a tank to target with ATGM to a get a cook-off, how to encircle regime militias with machinegun-fire enfilade and at what range, why target the middle vehicle of a regime convoy) to notice and use. All this would nicely tie-in/connect to Sun Tzu’s above (ie ‘knowing your enemy’) comment.

Leave a Comment