JESSE MULLIGAN: So let’s move on as well, and we’ll go international now, with a look at the world with Al Gillespie. The United States has suspended Syrian ceasefire talks with Russia, and they made the call after frustrations with Moscow and its ability to live up to a ceasefire agreement. That announcement comes two weeks after the most recent attempt at a ceasefire fell apart, when a humanitarian aid convoy trying to reach besieged areas of rebel-held Aleppo was destroyed by an air strike. Al Gillespie of the University of Waikato joins us now. Al, hullo there, how ARE you today?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: Hey Jessie, I’m well. Thank you.
JESSE MULLIGAN: [extended intake of breath to convey how serious he is] Who do we believe: United States or Russia?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: Well, there’s two sides to it. The Americans said they’ll only go back into the talks if the Russians stop bombing Aleppo, and the Russians say they can only stop bombing Aleppo if the Americans distinguish between the moderate rebels and Al Qaeda, which is a legitimate target.
JESSE MULLIGAN: A-a-a-a-and is your understanding that the Russians have a POINT in that respect or do the United States deny it?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: I, uh, I, …[baffled world-weary sigh]… there’s no-o-o-o-o black and white any more in, in Syria, especially in Aleppo. And often the sides, some of those that are moderate and not meant to be targeted, blend with the ILLEGITIMATE, more religious extremists which CAN be targeted. It’s pretty hard to get a clear dividing line.
JESSE MULLIGAN: How bad news IS this, that talks have broken down between the U.S. and Russia?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: It’s very bad, I mean we can’t even get a ceasefire at the moment, so we can’t, you need a ceasefire before you can start talking about a peace plan. We need to be thinking that this conflict could go on for many years from here.
JESSE MULLIGAN: Why do ceasefires break down, Al, if uh, if no one enjoys war? [snickers nervously]
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: There’s no trust on the ground. No one believes that it’s safe to bring in aid, water, or food, and so unless you can get the most basic modicum of trust, you can’t build up.
JESSE MULLIGAN: So how do you CREATE it?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: You get the teams, well you need two things. One, people have to get tired of fighting, and neither side has to believe that they can WIN. At the moment, there’s so much money, men, and ammunition going into the fight, both sides believe that they still have the upper hand. And then you need to have confidence-building measures, and right now they can’t even achieve THAT.
JESSE MULLIGAN: [speaking very slowly, to convey thoughtfulness] Sometimes when I read this stuff I get the sense that Russia are L-L-L-LOOKIN’ for trouble, are L-L-L-LOOKIN’ to create tension with the U.S. Is that fair?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: [slowly, deliberately, to convey deep thinking] Ahhhhhmmm, partly, partly not. I mean, Russia’s there by a treaty it had with Syria from the early 1970s, a legitimate treaty for a defensive alliance, and Assad is still to a degree in power, so Russia’s doing what it was bound to do by treaty. The problem is, that at some point, as long as you’re propping up these sides the war will continue and you may have to, everyone just back out and see what the actual outcome is.
JESSE MULLIGAN: Meanwhile, there’s this OTHER story around today, that Russia have walked away from the protocol on weapons-grade plutonium control. Can you give us a bit of background to that, Al?
PROFESSOR AL GILLESPIE: Certainly. So the nuclear arms treaty’s like a collection of documents which regulate nuclear weapons. One of the protocols was about the reduction of plutonium, surplus plutonium, so it would not be diverted to create more nuclear warheads. The Russians have suspended their talks in this protocol exactly the same day as the Americans suspended their talks about the ceasefire in Syria. It’s a blow to nuclear arms control, it’s not MASSIVE, but it’s certainly starting to wobble the architecture.
JESSE MULLIGAN: And once AGA-A-AIN, if we look at both parties, do both parties have some culpability here, or is it the Russians MAKING TROUBLE?