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Published in Press Stream:
October 28, 2016

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Published in Stream:
October 28, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Indicates They Will Step Up Attacks On Aleppo Rebels As Offensive To Break Regime Siege Begins
3 years
Stream: October 28, 2016
Publication: Putin in Syria
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As Syrian rebels launched a major offensive this morning to break the regime's siege of Aleppo, the Russian, Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers held a press conference in Moscow.

Russia's Sergei Lavrov made it clear that Russia had every intention of intensifying attacks against Syrian rebel fighters, by equating them with "terrorists" who, in his words, "must be finished off."

The Russian foreign minister said:

"Our Western colleagues are mainly focused on unfounded accusations or distorting facts and thereby, for all intents and purposes, are providing cover for terrorists, but terrorists must be wiped out. And if our Western partners are only taking part in the anti-terrorist struggle through words, then we are all the same fully determined to bring this matter to a close in practice."

Lavrov continued, claiming that the fact that other rebel groups had not disassociated themselves from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, in Aleppo meant that they were viable targets. JFS are currently participating in the Aleppo offensive alongside other groups including Ahrar al-Sham and various Free Syrian Army-affiliates.

"I will give one example: At the very beginning of this year, at one of the meetings of the International Syria Support Group, and this was more than 20 countries at the level of foreign ministers, John Kerry said publicly, into a microphone: 'If the moderate opposition do not want to be associated with terrorists, those moderate opposition groups must leave the territory controlled by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and join up with the cessation of hostilities.' John Kerry finished his statement with the following words: 'If someone from the moderate opposition groups doesn't dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra, they will be a legitimate target, just as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are a legitimate target.'

I think that, given the complete lack of evidence that the moderate opposition in eastern Aleppo intends to dissociate themselves from al-Nusra, the time has come for this logic, laid out by John Kerry, to acquire some practical form."

It is uncertain whether Kerry really did give this ultimatum. Lavrov appears to be referring to the meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) during the Munich Security Conference in February this year.

While Kerry did call on opposition fighters to dissociate themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra, there is no public record of such a threat that they would otherwise be viewed as "legitimate targets." No such comments were made during the press conference Kerry held with Lavrov and the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.



John Kerry did in fact make a similar remark, not at the beginning of this year, but last month, at a press conference in Washington:

QUESTION: Can you clarify something just super quick, Mr. Secretary? You said that it’s not advisable to the opposition to be playing with Nusrah; it’s a losing proposition because of their allies that are supporting them, but also because they know that you’re looking to take – the opposition understands that you’re looking to take on terror groups. Are you suggesting that if these marbleization doesn’t – if they don’t separate themselves, that they could get caught in the crossfire?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’ve made it very, very clear. And no, we’re going to be very careful in dealing with Nusrah in ways that the joint implementation group will allow us to do. But if they join with Nusrah in offensive action and attacks, then they’ve made a choice to be with Nusrah and then they clearly run the risk.


Given the proven combat efficacy of JFS and the existential threat posed by the regime's siege, rebel groups in the Aleppo area are naturally disinclined to turn away support from such a large and capable fighting force at this time, regardless of any ideological differences. 

Of course Russia and the Assad regime have continuously branded all opposition groups they target as "terrorists."

Lavrov's Syrian counterpart, Wallid Muallem, also reiterated the regime's commitment that they would not "reduce [their] efforts in the fight against terrorism and to liberate Aleppo from terrorists."

Meanwhile Lavrov claimed that there was "no difference" between the efforts of the Iraqi government, supported by the international coalition, to liberate the city of Mosul from ISIS, and the regime's attempt to capture eastern Aleppo. 

This, combined with today's offensive by rebel fighters, clearly indicates that the relative lull in attacks on eastern Aleppo seen over the last few days is due to end. 

On the ground, a huge operation is under way, with rebel forces moving on regime-held areas of southwestern and southeastern Aleppo.

Amongst the groups taking part in the offensive are JFS, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Fateh, Jabhat al-Shamiyah, the Turkish-backed Faylaq al-Sham and the FSA-aligned Fastaqem Union.

-- Pierre Vaux