WASHINGTON – If the Russian and American militaries were to coordinate efforts to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, it indeed would be big news, according to a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
However, a recent report by the Russian state-operated Interfax news agency and a London Guardian story citing Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov to that effect turn out not to be true.
It is true that Secretary of State John Kerry has been working with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on the next steps after Russia’s partial withdrawal of its aircraft from Syria and the initiation of a partial cease-fire in western Syria, which has been followed by deliveries of humanitarian aid.
Kerry and Lavrov also agreed to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to meet with the opposition about a political transition once peace talks reconvene April 9 in Geneva.
The idea of cooperation follows visits by Kerry and Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan to Moscow in March.
However, a senior Russian official who spoke on condition of anonymity told G2 Bulletin that Syromolotov never agreed to any “coordination” to liberate Raqqa. Instead, it was a general statement of cooperation in the war against terrorism, without specifying whether it would be in Syria, Iraq or the 20 other countries where ISIS and Sunni jihadist terrorist groups that have sworn allegiance to it reside.
Liberating ISIS capital
From Russia’s viewpoint, the talks between Kerry and Lavrov mean the U.S. has come to recognize the legitimacy of the Russian position in Syria, which has helped create the perception of closer coordination between the two countries.
Now that the Syrian army has taken back from ISIS, after a year of occupation, the ancient Roman city of Palmyra with the help of Russian aerial cover, the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate capital, Raqqa, appears to be the next target.
The liberation of Raqqa could include intense U.S. aerial bombardment, but Russia and the U.S. are seen as using their own forces and strategies in an effort to strengthen their negotiating positions over the future of Syria.
The Russian official said the Russian RIA news agency story on coordination between Moscow and Washington on retaking Raqqa was a leak.
“Don’t trust alleged leaks,” the Russian official told G2 Bulletin. “Taking back Raqqa needs forces on the ground. On the (Syrian) government’s side, it’s the Syrian Arab army. The U.S. so far refuses to deal with them (and has) publicly stated this position.”