On March 3, Valery Gerasimov, head of the Russian military's General Staff and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met in Vienna for talks, which were held on the initiative of the American side. Syria was one of the topics on the agenda.
Although the top military officials reached some agreements, in particular, on further interaction to prevent incidents in Syria’s air space, they failed to overcome differences on some important points regarding the settlement of the situation in that country.
Joseph Dunford hoped to talk Moscow into putting pressure on Damascus to ensure that the Syrian government forces would not threaten the Kurdish armed groups after the military actions against IS (an international terrorist group outlawed in Russia) are completed.
Both the Russian and Syrian leaderships highly value the results of the military activities of the Kurdish and Arab militias of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), their contribution to the victory over the militants in the northeastern part of the country. Nevertheless, Russia will support Syria, which is strongly opposing the presence of illegal armed groups on its territory and their control over certain areas of the country. This actually means the division of the state and will inevitably lead to new aggravation of the situation in future. That is why Valery Gerasimov strongly rejected the proposal of his US counterpart.
The idea of the American side was that Russia should ban the movement of any armed forces to the northeast from the Euphrates River, the area, which is currently under control of the US and the SDF. Moscow believes that it is sovereign matter of Damascus to decide on military activities against illegal armed forces and it is going to uphold this position.
Finally, the head of the Russian military's General Staff strongly rejected the demand of his US counterpart not to oppose the introduction of a no-fly zone in the air space over the northeastern districts of Syria. The Russian military political leadership will never agree to restrict the activities of combat aircraft of the national air forces over the entire territory of Syria, including the At-Tanf zone on the borderline of Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Currently, the Russian aircraft is refraining from flights in that area in compliance with temporary agreements reached as part of joint trilateral committee in Amman.
According to the sources, close to the US delegation, Josef Dunford was also going to obtain the consent of Moscow for the involvement of military forces from several West European countries to ensure security of the SDF in the north-east of Syria after the reduction of the US military presence in that area. However, considering the inflexibility of the Russian party on previous points of the talks he refrained from voicing that idea.
After the talks in Vienna the head of the Russian military delegation refrained from official comments to Western and Russian media. That was a closed doors session, the parties “synchronized their watches.”
In fact, the American side should not have even counted on mutual understanding on the issues, which were brought to the table. At least we can hope that the talks helped Joseph Dunford understand that the Russian leadership will continue to consistently support Syria, to firmly protect its interests in that part of the world, without casting a fearful look at its opponent.
At the same time, the meeting in Vienna let the US see that Russia does not want to bring the settlement of contradictions to an open conflict and gives preference to negotiations between the military as part of the joint Russian-American-Jordanian committee for interaction in Amman.