Following the announcement by the Russian general staff that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) will be the main target of the military opeartions in Syria in 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also announced that the terrorist group is now the primary military objective of the Russian-led anti-terrorist coalition.
The Russian state-run news agency TASS reports (source):
The main anti-terrorist task in Syria is routing the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group (outlawed in Russia), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting with leader of Syria’s Tomorrow opposition movement Ahmad Jarba on Wednesday.
“A decisive blow has been dealt to the Islamic State (IS, terror group, outlawed in Russia – TASS). Although some militants who fled the battlefield are trying to either regroup in Syria or leave the country, it is clear that the main fight is over. Now, of course, the main anti-terrorist objective is the defeat of Jabhat al-Nusra,” the minister said.
“The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing Jabhat al-Nusra members out of the country with our support,” Russia’s top diplomat said. “However, they are still resisting, in particular, as far as we know, because they have been receiving assistance from abroad.”
“Our president [Vladimir Putin] said that, in the event of recurrent terrorist activities we will vigorously support the Syrian army’s actions with the help of our Aerospace Forces. You know that a decision has been made with this end in view, and it relies on intergovernmental agreements with Damascus, on the Russian armed forces’ permanent deployment bases in Tartus and Hmeymim,” Lavrov pointed out.
On December 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Islamic State terror group had been fully defeated on both banks of the Euphrates in Syria. On December 11, he ordered to begin a withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria. On December 22, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu reported to the president that the order to withdraw Russia’s task force from Syria had been fulfilled. Three military police battalions, the Center for reconciliation of the parties and the bases in Hmeymim and Tartus will remain in Syria.
Chief of Russia’s General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Wednesday that Russia would push ahead with efforts to eliminate militants of the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group in Syria who derail the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones in 2018.
The Syrian Congress of National Dialogue
Moscow is confident that the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue will help start a direct dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva, Lavrov said.
“Success in the fight against IS (Islamic State, a terror group, outlawed in Russia – TASS), as well as the operation of the de-escalation zones, makes it possible to get down to the political process in a more active way,” the Russian foreign minister pointed out. “Based on the results of eight meetings on Syria in Astana, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey forwarded the initiative to convene the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi, setting the dates for January 29-30. We value your active contribution to the success of the event.”
According to the minister, Moscow sees this event to be widely supported by Syrians living in Syria, including most tribal leaders. “External opposition members were also invited to the Congress, including those who united in a delegation for talks with the Syrian government at the Geneva platform,” he added.
“Our goal is to lay the basis for the widest possible representation for launching the constitutional reform, create the conditions which must be agreed on by the Syrians themselves, and, in this sense, implement the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” Lavrov said.
“We are confident that, just like a year ago when the initiative to establish the Astana platform galvanized our UN counterparts, the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue will definitely help Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura and his counterparts to ultimately start a direct dialogue in Geneva without any preliminary conditions,” Lavrov said. “This chiefly concerns constitutional issues and preparations for the election.”