It is impossible to predict what will happen following the recent meetings between US Secretary of State Kerry and President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow. After all, all which can come out of such a meeting are only words. Still, words matter, and in the case of the highest level officials of the two major powers on the planet, they matter a lot. And a lot of very important words were spoken in Moscow, in particular about Syria, and I believe that they deserve a closer look.
First and foremost, it is undeniable that the USA has had to back down from its previous "re-interpretation" of the Geneva Agreement. While the Russian side said that all the parties must negotiate together to appoint their representatives and task them with forming a transitional authority, the Americans declared that it was categorically unacceptable to have Assad or his representatives participate in these negotiations. But that was when the State Department was run by this bellicose russophobic and, frankly, imbecile bitch Hillary Clinton. John Kerry is a very different person who is maybe not in the same league as the outright brilliant James Baker, but who is nonetheless a smart and shrewed realist and a competent diplomat. It appears that he understands the futility of Hillary Clinton's ideological stance since he has clearly indicated that it was for the Syrian people to decide who represents them and for the opposing parties to choose their leaders. In other words, the USA accepts to negotiate with Assad.
Foreign Minister Lavrov even indicated that the Russians had carefully coordinated their stance by means of personal consultations with President Assad who was fully informed of, and agreed with, the Russian position. In other words, the Americans are already negotiating with Assad.
Second, Secretary Kerry appeared to fully accept and even endorse the Russian line that external "extremists" are using the Syrian conflict for their own purposes and that these extremists represent a real threat for the entire region. Kerry confirmed this by stating that the USA supports the Syrian territorial integrity and the multi-ethnic and, most importantly, multi-confessional nature of the Syrian society. In other words, the USA is also accepting the Russian thesis that the al-Qaeda types cannot be allowed to seize power in Syria.
Thirdly, in regards to the canard about the Syrian military using chemical weapons, Kerry did say that these claims must be very carefully investigated before any conclusions are drawn. At this point Foreign Minister Lavrov revealed that the US and Russian intelligence services would work very closely to draw a common conclusion about what actually happened on the ground. Foreign Minister Lavrov said that "we all know that there are parties to this conflict which have a demonstrated capability to organize "provocations" (which, in the Russian language, really implies what is called "false flag" operation in the West) and that the USA and Russia had agreed not to allow that to happen. Secretary Kerry was clearly not to eager to comment about all this, but he did acquiesce and he most definitely did not contradict Lavrov. In other words, the USA has dumped any plans it might have had of blaming Assad for using chemical weapons.
I don't know about you, but to me this looks like a full-spectrum victory for the Russian diplomacy who appears to have forced the USA to yield on all key points concerning the Syrian conflict.
There was a rather amusing and very uncharacteristic moment at the end
of the joint Kerry-Lavrov press conference when Lavrov suddenly asked
the reporters "do you know who won the Russia-USA hockey match today?"
(the two teams were playing each other in the playoffs for the world
championship) with a totally innocent look on his face. And when Lavrov
"learned" from a Russian reporter that Russia had beat the US (with a
score of 5-3 if I remember correctly) - he turned to Kerry and said "it
appears that Russia has won!!!". Kerry, being an savvy diplomat,
also laughed at that, and the two were soon back-slapping each other.
Frankly, I think that Lavrov made the American pay with this little
comment for all the stupid crap that this bitch Clinton had said about
Russia. Yes, the Russians would kindly agree to work with the USA, but
only on Russian terms which they had stated from Day 1 and on
which they yielded nothing. Lavrov really sent a clear message to the
American elites: "if you play by civilized rules and treat us as
equal partners, we will do our part. If you f**k with us, then you are
on your own and we and the Chinese will watch you fail". That is, I believe, what this "it appears that Russia has won" really meant. A kind tease, but a very serious message.
The credit for this positive, if provisional, outcome goes to the firm yet careful stance of the Russian diplomats and to Putin personally for having had the patience to carefully play his hand. But even before any credit is given to the Kremlin, the one party which deserves the most praise and gratitude is the Syrian military whose excellent performance, courage and skills on the battlefield nothing forced the Americans to come back to the negotiating table. Had the Syrian military collapsed (as so many had predicted) there is absolutely nothing the Russians could have done to force Kerry to make all the concessions he has made.
This conflict is far from over. For one thing, there are forces inside the USA - the "deep state" if you wish - who hate Obama, hate Kerry, hate Syria and, above all, hate Russia and who have huge resources which they can use to sabotage Kerry's approach. Furthermore, the current US and Russian position is placing a wedge between the al-Qaeda crazies (who represent primarily foreign interests and, therefore, also most of the firepower) and the more moderate opposition (who probably represents more Syrians than the al-Qaeda crazies) and it remains to be seen how these two groups will deal with each other.
Still, if - and that is a big "if" - a small step was finally made to force the West to accept that Syria will not be handed over to the Wahabis, partitioned or turned into another failed state a la Somalia, then this is truly thanks to the patriotic courage of the Syrian soldiers and, in particular, the Syrian officer corps which resolutely stood in defense of their country.
And this is how it should be. Russia, China or Iran cannot "save" Syria. Nor should they. Only the Syrians can save Syria, of course. What Russia, China and Iran can do is stand by those forces in Syria who are carrying the heavy burden of fighting against the US/NATO/al-Qaeda/Israeli coalition. So while the behind the scenes role of China, Iran and even Hezbollah does not appear to have much to do with the events in Moscow, I am also sure that Russia alone would appear much weaker to the Americans than a informal but nevertheless highly effective alliance of Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah.
To repeat - this is only a small but victorious skirmish in a much larger battle of a even bigger war and this is a small victory of words only, not of actual facts on the ground. Things can still change a million times over and over again.
But even with these caveats and disclaimers, I call this one as an unequivocal victory for Syria and its *real* friends.