[Published 18 September 2015]
The possibility that Russia and America may at long last be seeking common ground on confronting Islamic State has been increased with US Secretary of State John Kerry revealing that his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov has approached America proposing military talks over Syria.
Kerry told reporters:
“The Russians proposed in the conversation I had today and the last conversation specifically that we have military-to-military conversation and meeting in order to discuss ... precisely what will be done to de-conflict with respect to any potential risks that might be run, and to have a complete and clear understanding as to the road ahead and what the intentions are,”Russia is concerned to ensure that America will not take the opportunity to use any jointly agreed action against Islamic State as a pretext to try and oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or weaken his hold on power.
America suspects that Moscow’s motives in sending 200 Russian naval infantry soldiers, seven tanks, a portable air traffic control station and components of an air defense system to an Assad-stronghold airbase near Latakia on the Mediterranean coast is part of an ongoing military build-up to support Assad’s continued hold on power.
Russia would also not have been too impressed with White House spokesman Josh Earnest reportedly stating a few days earlier:
“What we would prefer to see from the Russians is a more constructive engagement with the 60-member coalition that’s led by the United States that’s focused on degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL,”Eleven members of that US coalition comprise a group known as the London 11 supporting and arming the rebels fighting Assad for the last five years.
American and Russian distrust of the other’s possible motives in Syria were successfully put aside when they co-operated to have all chemical weapons in Syria held by Assad and his opponents destroyed by jointly securing the passing of Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) on 27 September 2013.
Such agreement - reached between Russia and America without threatening to either restrict or extend Assad’s hold on power - was an impressive diplomatic achievement. However it only came about after they both decided to focus on destroying all chemical weapons in Syria — rather than focusing on whether Assad or the rebels was responsible for the use of chemical weapons that caused the deaths of 1429 Syrians on 21 August 2013.
Security Council Resolution 2118 ended the deadlock that had paralysed the Security Council’s efforts to end the civil war in Syria for the previous thirty months.
Russia and America now need to solely focus on defeating Islamic State - whilst putting their support for Assad or his overthrow on the backburner until Islamic State is defeated.
They can achieve this by jointly sponsoring another Security Council resolution under Chapter VII article 42 of the United Nations Charter which empowers the Security Council to:
“take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.”Every day’s delay in securing the passage of such a resolution - and acting on it - means further deaths, injuries and suffering for the Syrian and Iraqi populations at the hands of Islamic State. Internal displacement of those populations inside Syria and Iraq, or to neighbouring countries - or even into the European Union - has had disastrous consequences that have shocked all people of compassion and goodwill over the last three weeks.
The time for procrastinating, arguing and blaming is surely over.