Putin in Syria: US Secretary of State Kerry Arrives in Moscow for Talks with Lavrov and Putin

December 15, 2015
US Secretary of State Johnk Kerry meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on December 15, 2015 | Mandel Ngan / AFP

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow today December 15 and has begun talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov primarily on Syria but also Ukraine. Later today he will meet with President Vladimir Putin.

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Heavy Casualties Reported After Multiple Russian Air Strikes

There are reports today of major civilian casualties after a series of Russian air strikes in the Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces.

According to the Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC), 25 people were killed when Russian jets conducted three strikes on a marketplace in ISIS-held Maskanah, in eastern Aleppo.

We cannot confirm the veracity of the following images:

In Aleppo city itself, there was a strike near another market place:

The LCC reports one death in the Ashrafiyye neighbourhood of northern Aleppo. Further air strikes were reported in the Fardos, Karam Tarab, Mashhad and Sukkari neighbourhoods.

To the north of the city, a Russian jet dropped what appears to be a parachute-retarded bomb on Deir Jamal:

According to the LCC, thermobaric weapons were used in the attack. This suggests that the weapons used were ODAB-500 bombs, the use of which by the Syrian regime has already been documented

In the Idlib province, to the south of Aleppo, several Russian air strikes were reported on a gas station in Maarat al-Naasan, resulting in dozens of casualties.



South of Maarat al-Naasan, the SMART News Agency reports that Russian jets dropped cluster bombs on the town of Saraqib, damaging a mosque, killing one child and wounding three other civilians.

In the Hama province, there were air strikes on rebel-held Morek, Atshan and the village of Uqayribat, northeast of Homs city.

Other than the market that was hit in Maskanah, ISIS does not control a single location mentioned above.  Instead, those positions are held by non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels, and many of those locations are on or near the front lines of combat. The rebels have been making advances in Aleppo, the Assad regime currently has its sights set on Idlib province, and a small area near Deir Jamal is still controlled by Assad’s soldiers, but they are effectively surrounded and cut off from the bulk of Assad’s troops.

— Pierre Vaux, James Miller

John Kerry In Moscow: Russia a “Significant Contributor” To Progress In Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov today, and despite clear lack of progress on multiple fronts, Kerry praised Russia’s cooperation on both Syria and Iran.

Politico reports:

Kerry, ahead of their Moscow meeting, thanked his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and said, “I agree completely with the agenda you’ve set out.”

“What is important to note is that even when there have been differences between us, we have been able to work effectively on specific issues, and Russia made a significant contribution to the dialogue on the Iran nuclear agreement, and now in both of the Vienna discussions, Russia has been a significant contributor to the progress that we’ve been able to make,” Kerry told the Russian diplomat, referring to the Syrian talks that have taken place in Austria.

“More than a contributor, you personally have really been a co-convener and I thank you for the efforts you’ve made to lead us up now hopefully to getting to New York and building on the progress that’s been made,” Kerry continued.

According to 24 Today, Kerry went on to say, “Today, I hope we can find some common ground.”

As we will soon report, however, there are indications that dozens of civilians have been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria.

Yesterday we wrote that a litany of former Obama officials, particularly former members of the State Department, have criticized the administration’s approach to Syria and suspect that very little, if anything, will come out of this new round of peace talks. Furthermore, it’s not clear that the White House has a plan for the possibility (or, as some have argued, inevitability) of the Vienna process collapsing:

James Miller
US Secretary of State John Kerry Meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to Discuss Syria and Ukraine

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Moscow today December 15 and has begun talks with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, primarily on Syria but also Ukraine. Later today he will meet with President Vladimir Putin.

Yesterday, the Foreign Ministry issued a testy statement about the meeting, noting that it was taking place at the State Department’s behest and complaining of what they saw as a US effort to divide up “good and bad terrorists.”

At a noon briefing at the State Department yesterday, spokesman John Kirby discussed the international effort to coordinate a list of terrorists:

MR Kirby: The Secretary also looks forward to discussing with Russian leaders plans for the next ISSG meeting – International Syria Support Group – in New York on Friday. That meeting, which is still on track, will allow us to build on the momentum already achieved in Riyadh and help lay down with more specificity the next steps, including parameters for a ceasefire and opposition negotiations with the Assad regime. The Secretary is mindful that there is still more work to be done before a meaningful meeting in New York can be had, but he also believes that the momentum thus achieved is too vital for the future of Syria to let lapse, and so very much continues to help build a full and busy agenda for the ISSG.

Asked if there were preconditions for the ISSG meeting and whether the Russian statement that the US had accepted them was true, Kirby said there were no preconditions. Asked if the negotiating team and the list of terrorist groups would be “locked up” before the meeting Friday, Kirby replied:

MR KIRBY Well, I don’t want to get ahead of processes here. Certainly the one being run by Jordan – again, we appreciate Jordan’s leadership with respect to coordinating this process of identifying groups. As I understand it, that work continues; as I said at the outset, it’s nearing its completion. The Secretary looks forward to seeing the results. And certainly, if it’s – if that work is done by Friday, then that will obviously be a key part of the agenda on Friday in New York for the ISSG to take up and to talk about. I don’t want to get ahead of Jordan and speak for them. They should speak for their progress so far. But we do understand that the work is nearing completion.

It is important nonetheless, though, Brad, to continue to move forward with the ISSG and to continue to build on this momentum. And that’s why the Secretary still believes it’s important to try to meet in New York on Friday.

Kirby was also asked about the composition of the negotiating team, and about angry Russian rhetoric:

MR KIRBY: That – well, that’s the high negotiating committee that came out of the Riyadh conference. I don’t know the status of their work in terms of building a negotiating team. It’s not my understanding – my understanding is exactly the same as with the Jordanians’ work, that the – that that work continues, and if they’ve got solutions that can be discussed by the ISSG on Friday, that’s great; if not, we’ll – I mean, there’s certainly plenty of other things to talk about there.

QUESTION: And then just lastly, what do you make of all – or do you appreciate the rhetoric that’s coming from Russia ahead of this meeting? It seems like you are going out of your way to try to work with them. You keep – we’ve heard from the Secretary multiple times about how constructive Russia has been, and then Russia’s statement said that the United States has to stop its separation between good and bad terrorists. Do you see that as something that, one, you do; and two, this type of talk is helpful?

MR KIRBY: Well, first, I don’t – I don’t know how one can be a good terrorist. And obviously, we share the Russians’ concerns that terrorist networks and terrorist groups should not be a part of the political process moving forward. Now, again, there’s work being done by Jordan in terms of helping to identify a process for coordinating these negotiations. We want that work to continue.

Russia was unhappy not only with the “good and bad terrorist” list, a reference to US backing of some moderate fighters. they complained about the list of those to be included in the talks:

QUESTION: The Russians criticized the representation of the opposition. They said it’s not complete, and it seems there’s disagreement with the Turks and the U.S. on parties that should be included in the delegation. Also, will you hold the New York meeting before Jordan complete the terrorist list and before agreement on the opposition representation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, as I said to Brad, I mean, the Secretary believes that there is sufficient momentum built up that it is important to move forward on this meeting. And again, the Jordanians are coordinating a process here for the – identifying groups that can be part of the negotiation. It has been sort of simplified into this good list, bad list, terrorist list. That’s not exactly the full scope of what they’re doing. As I said, that work, as we understand it, is nearing its completion, and the Secretary looks forward to seeing it. And if it should be done by Friday, then obviously it’ll be a part of the agenda going forward with the ISSG, clearly.

The talks are taking place as continued Russian airstrikes are halting delivery of humanitarian aid.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick