Post Flight Analysis: Who Fired on a Humanitarian Convoy in Syria?

It is obvious that the Russian aircraft did not bomb the convoy, but it is not obvious that this was not done by the Syrian regime.

The joint convoy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and UN humanitarian organizations came under fire on Tuesday night in the vicinity of Urum al-Kubra, northwest of the city of Aleppo. Washington said that the Syrian government troops or Russian Aerospace Forces were responsible for the attack. In turn, Moscow denied any involvement in the incident.

“For me, it is obvious that the Russian aircraft did not bomb the convoy, but it is not obvious that this was not done by the Syrian regime,” says Leonid Isaev, senior lecturer at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, and expert of the Valdai Discussion Club. According to him, this was "an attempt of the Syrian regime and the rebel groups to sabotage the US-Russian agreement in Geneva."

François Burgat, Director of Research at the Institute for Research and Studies on the Arab and Muslim World (IREMAM), based in Aix-en-Provence, France, and expert of the Valdai Discussion Club, also believes that “this incident in some way proved a lack of confidence on the part of the Syrian regime.”

“It has been suggested that the recent ceasefire was more a maneuver than an expression of serious commitment on the part of the Syrian regime and its supporters,” Burgat said. Therefore, first we must find out who committed the abovementioned attack, whether it was intentional or a mistake.

However, according to Isaev, this issue must be dealt with “cold-bloodedly and without unnecessary emotions,” avoiding mutual accusations and diplomatic scandals, because any careless word can put an end to the tremendous work to build a dialogue that has been done in the recent months by US and Russian diplomats.

“The US-Russian agreement on Syria is perhaps not as efficient as we would like it to be, and we have not even passed half of the way, but the situation became much better, for sure. We no longer observe trends for the deterioration of the situation and spread of ISIS. This is our common achievement, and the situation is now much better than it was a year ago,” Isaev said.

Above all, internal forces are not interested in the resolution of the Syrian conflict. “I would not speak for all of the Syrian regime, but I can say some of its representatives are not interested in rapid settlement of the conflict, as they have committed a huge number of war crimes,”Isaev said.

After Geneva agreements were reached, it has been suggested that there is a huge number of forces in the region, which would prevent the implementation of these agreements, and this is, according to the expert, “the main problematic point in the US-Russian process of crisis settlement.” The recent incident with the UN convoy only confirms this.

Yes, Russia and the United States may also not be interested in resolving specific conflicts, and both have expressed a desire to be “the driving force of the Syrian settlement.”

In addition, there is another aspect in the way of building dialogue between Russia and the United States. “We, Russians, should be in an ‘above-the-fray’ position, but we have once again made it clear that we are one of the [conflicting] parties,” he explained. “We have taken a pro-Assad stance, although the situation has not yet been completely investigated. This allowed Kerry and Obama to declare: ‘Well, if that was the Syrian Air Force, you are responsible for it, because you shield him.” According to Isaev, now this is Russia's weak point. “We should not allow the Syrians to play on Russian-American contradictions,” he stressed.

François Burgat, on the contrary, believes that Russia’s and the United States’ policies on Syria begin to have more and more similar trends. But it is these similarities that move the parties away from each other and from the crisis settlement.

“The Russian position has quite a distinct trend, which is now typical for the United States, and, by the way, these two positions are getting closer and closer. This is the desire to criminalize a significant number of the armed opposition groups,”Burgat said.

The expert believes that the way out of the crisis is starting negotiations “between the two main radical forces: the regime and the opposition.” “By helping the regime more than necessary, we make the situation so confused that negotiations are losing sense,” Burgat said.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.