Moscow and Washington consider expanding cooperation in Syria

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Hmeymim air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Hmeymim air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama made an offer to Russia to begin joint combat operations against the Al-Nusra Front militants. Some Russian experts believe that this overture has been made in order to strengthen the Democrat Party’s position in the presidential election race. Yet this step also could have positive implications for Moscow.

The White House has decided to extend combat operations against the Al-Nusra Front in Syria. President Obama announced that he is ready to expand joint operations with Moscow if the bombing of pro-Western units, such as Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, ceases.

The Russian Ministry of Defense reacted positively to the American proposal and said that in May 2016 Minister Sergei Shoigu had also spoken in favor of conducting joint operations. 

Moscow is interested in expanding cooperation. Russian experts believe that this will not only help in solving the Syrian crisis but would also lead to progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

What is impeding success? 

However, Moscow is concerned that the Pentagon does not plan to give the Russian Ministry of Defense the precise coordinates of its formations, instead limiting itself to listing the zones that are "free from strikes by the Syrian and Russian air forces."

"Cooperation may be complicated by a series of factors,” said Dmitry Litovkin, a military analyst from the Izvestia daily newspaper. “Firstly, there is the Pentagon's unwillingness to give Moscow the coordinates of the pro-Western formations, instead just delineating the combat zones."

Such secrecy, Litovkin seems to suggest, could have a negative impact on the effectiveness of joint operations. 

Several American experts share Moscow's concerns. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told The Washington Post that even if Damascus agrees to stop bombing the neighborhoods where pro-Western groups are based, nothing would prevent the Al-Nusra Front militants from moving their troops into regions that are not slated for bombing.

Where will the main fighting take place? 

In the words of Vladimir Evseyev, the deputy director of the Institute of CIS Countries, the U.S.'s principle combat objective is to liberate the city of Al-Raqqah from Islamic State militants. 

"Obama wants to liberate the civilians and make his mark on history,” says Evseyev. “And at a time when the Syrian Army is leaving the Al-Raqqah Governorate and is practically stopping its advance on the provincial capital, pro-Western formations with the help of American aviation will soon begin the offensive on the city." 

The main route for the Syrian Army will be towards Aleppo, whose liberation is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's key to success in this war. It is in that direction that Assad will move the army.

"From a military-tactical point of view, Al-Raqqah is not very important,” said Evseyev. “It is much more important in this stage of the war to regain control of the northern neighborhoods of Aleppo. This will help ‘clean up’ the terrorists' transportation corridor through which they receive their provisions, ammunition, medicine and reinforcements."

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