The Minsk process and Syria

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
Even professionals like Sergei Lavrov (L) and John Kerry (R) have trouble being civil amid a complete breakdown of trust between Moscow and Washington (source: dpa)
  • Russia sees the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts as rooted in Western violations of post-Cold War order
  • Neither conflict can be ended without trust between Moscow and Washington
  • Ukraine, as an existential threat to the Russian regime, must come first
  • Baseline scenario is continued wars of attrition, which the Kremlin thinks it can win

The breakdown of yet another truce in Syria has sent relations between Russia and the United States to new lows. In a tense exchange in the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State John Kerry blasted the Kremlin, accusing Russian warplanes of bombing an aid convoy headed for Aleppo and complaining that listening to Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, was like living in a “parallel universe.” In Syria, meanwhile, the carnage resumed and intensified, to levels not seen for quite some time.

Syria’s real tragedy is that the mosaic of opposing forces and conflicting agendas is so complex that without a strong element of trust between Russia and the U.S., there cannot be a sustainable truce, let alone a realistic path to peace. What Mr. Kerry refers to as the “spoilers” will always find ways to wreck such ambitions, in the futile hope of achieving a military solution on their own. And the European Union can look forward to an escalation of the refugee crisis that already threatens to break it apart.

Looking forward, the essential insight is that the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine are linked, and must be resolved together. The political and military dimensions of the two differ considerably, and consequently will require different approaches in negotiations. But they are linked in the sense of being outcomes of the breakdown of trust between Moscow and Washington, rather than its cause.

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