Munich Puts Stamp on Tightened US-Russian military cooperation in Syria
At the end of hours of debate in Munich, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced early Friday, Feb. 12, that the US, Russia and other powers had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war to take place next week and immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added: The cessation would go into effect next Friday, Feb. 19 but, he stressed, “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted.
Possibly for the first time in his diplomatic career, Kerry termed an international document he initiated “words on paper” because, he said, “the proof of commitment will come only with implementation.”
The document was signed by 17 nations, including Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubayr for the Syrian opposition and Iran’s top diplomat Muhammed Javad Zarif in the name of the Assad regime.
Lavrov listed the terrorist groups that will continue to be targeted as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Since Jabhat members are integrated in many non-jihadi rebel groups, debkafile’s analysts infer enough caveats in the paper to be used as carte blanche for Russia, Syria, Iran and Hizballah to carry on fighting the Assad regime’s enemies, even after the ceasefire goes into effect.
The nub of the Munich accord was therefore the parties authorized to name the terrorists. This was spelled out as follows: “The determination of eligible targets and geographic areas is to be left up to a task force of nations headed by Russia and the United States.”
This puts the entire agreement in the joint hands of the US and Russia. Lavrov emphasized, “The key thing is to build direct contacts, not only on procedures to avoid incidents, but also cooperation between our militaries.”
The Munich accord therefore provided the framework for expanding the existing US-Russian coordination on air force flights over Syria to cover their direct collaboration in broader aspects of military operations in the war-torn country.
Lavrov mentioned a “qualitative” change in US military policy to cooperate with Russia in continuing the fight against the Islamic State, but it clearly goes beyond that.
debkafile’s military sources report that this collaboration has been in place since December, when Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin concluded a secret pact for working together to end the Syrian war.
This pact was first revealed by DEBKA Weekly as setting out a division of military responsibility between the two powers: The Americans took charge of areas east of the Euphrates, leaving the Russians responsible for the territory west of the river. The Munich accord provides this pact with a formal framework
A glance at the attached map shows the specifics of their arrangement:
The Russians military is in control of all the land in southern, central and western Syria, including Damascus, the southern town of Daraa, Homs, Hama and Latakia in the center and Aleppo in the north.
The US military has control of the Kurdish towns of Hassakeh and Qamishli in the north, the ISIS de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa and the border regions between Syria and Iraq. The Syrian-Turkish border district is divided between the Russians and Americans.
Therefore, behind the diplomatic bombast, the Munich accord for ending hostilities in Syria provided a rubber stamp for the hostilities to continue, amid the ramping up of US military intervention in the war, both by air and on the ground, in close collaboration with Russia.
Neither Kerry nor Lavrov referred to the massive refugee crisis building up primarily on the locked Syrian-Turkish frontier, indicating Ankara’s exclusion from the Munich deliberations and the big power planning for Syria’s future.