The US and Russia, two rivals and at the same time decisive powers with great influence on the course of developments in the crisis-hit country, also engaged in different talks to reach a common point on a variety of issues. But at the end of the road, their negotiations failed to come to fruition.
On November 11, the spokesman to the Jordanian government talked about a deal struck between Russia, the US, and Jordan to put an end to the violence in Syria and prepare the ground to a political solution. The American President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit last week, stressing that they wanted to see Syria united, coordinate to avoid possible US-Russian collisions in the war-ravaged country, and continue to fight ISIS terrorist group to its obliteration. These comments made speculations swirl about a deal made between Washington and Moscow on Syria.
But on Monday, November 13, the American Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that a United Nations Security Council's resolution on Syria authorized continued presence of the American forces in Syria, and that they will not simply walk away from the Syrian territories. Reacting to the American defense chief's remarks, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has labeled the presence of the US-led military coalition in Syria as “illegitimate”, adding that the US showed leniency with the terrorists and Russia had serious questions about the real goals of the Americans in the Syrian territories.
The Russian FM also touched on the presence of the pro-Damascus forces in Syria, stating that agreements with Washington will not mean that Moscow will guarantee exit of the pro-Syrian parties, emphasizing that Moscow has not given any assurances about that. He went on to warn that the US-backed militias with different approaches posed the greatest risk in Syria.
These fresh US-Russian stances have marked another failure to the various agreements made by the two powers to address the Syrian crisis. They also raised a question: Why are the Syria-related accords of the two going nowhere?
Conflict of strategic interests
Part of the failure of the two parties' agreements should be essentially blamed on the conflicting policies and goals of the two in relation to the case. While Russia has stepped in the anti-terror war to combat terrorism and restore stability and security to Syria, the Washington-centered Western military alliance, along with its regional allies, has contributed to terrorism expansion across Syria in an effort to topple the Syrian government and change the status quo, which is seen unfavorable to the Israeli regime's security and interests of the West. The US essentially seeks raising to power a pro-Western government in Damascus. The Americans are striving after extensive presence in the region through making new allies and setting up new military bases all to put further strains on Iran and provide Tel Aviv with wider breathing space. All these are sought via driving out Damascus as one of the pillars of Iran-led Axis of Resistance.
On the other side, the Russian leaders read as a Western campaign to tighten the noose on Moscow the Western expansionism through attempts to overthrow the non-compliant governments in the strategic West Asia region especially after the 2011 uprisings which ushered in a period of Islamic awakening. They, furthermore, find their presence in Syria as providing them with a launching pad to get their foothold in the region after nearly three decades of seclusion, an arrangement helping them weather the effects of economic pressures coming from the American-European sanctions imposed on Moscow. This contrariety, of course, has overshadowed the deals aimed at deconfliction in Syria. The agreements, in fact, are short of depth and only rely on some general terms like Syrian sovereignty and anti-ISIS fighting.
Moscow distrust in Washington
Another part of the Russian-US agreements' frailty has to do with the Russian mistrust of the US. For example, the two in February 2016 agreed to work towards an inclusive ceasefire in Syria. But in May 2016, the Russian FM at the end of a single-day Russia-(Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council Strategic Dialogue Ministerial Meeting in Moscow blasted the American decline to accomplish its commitments. He noted that the American side through the Friends of Syria Group and diplomatic channels had promised that in near future Washington will separate the patriotic Syrian opposition armed groups from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group, but even three months after UNSC announced cessation of fire in Syria, the American pledges were far from being accomplished.
Even in the recent agreement, when the US Department of Defense said that the American troops will remain in Syria to combat ISIS militants, Russians objected and rejected that this was a term of the deal. Moreover, when the Americans declared that Russia had taken as a responsibility withdrawal of the pro-Damascus forces from southern and southwestern Syria, Moscow officials denied that they made such a promise. The Russians know it well that the Americans always have an excuse up their sleeve to evade the vows they make. They have seen the US unreliability in a series of agreements with North Korea, Libya, and also recently Iran. Thereby, a part of the reasons behind the failure of deals struck between Washington and Moscow returns to the deep Russian mistrust in the Americans who easily break their promises.
Observing the allies' considerations
Without a shadow of a doubt, the key to the Russian successes is the close work with the Iran-led Axis of Resistance that helped fight insecurity, foreign intervention, and terrorism spread in the region. Coalescing with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Russia now had managed to get toehold not only in Syria but also across the region, turning into an important player in West Asian developments and challenging the American hegemony in the region. Vladimir Putin’s November 1 visit of Iran and emphasis on bilateral relations with Tehran, which marked appearance of a strategic regional alliance, laid bare the fact that the Russians in their dealing with the Americans see it a need to regard considerations of their such regional allies as Iran and Syria which collide with the American Syria presence goals to the core.
With these in mind, it can be concluded that the Russian-American accords are highly symbolic with the least positive practicality and are aimed at limited coordination on the Syrian military stage to steer clear of head-on collision. With one side’s policies and goals in stark contrast to the other side’s, no possibility of their viability is in sight.