The End of the Syrian War?

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Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ

23rd February, 2016


The United States and Russia agreed on a ceasefire in Syria, where both countries separately from each other are fighting against Islamist groups. This was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in a special address on television. The agreement demonstrates the high level of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, but experts estimate it carefully because of many different factors.

As was stated by the Russian President, the ceasefire in Syria should occur on February 27th at midnight — this means that the ceasefire must stop the Syrian military, aviation of Russia and the coalition forces under the auspices of the United States.

The Russian head of state said that the agreement on a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria was adopted by the U.S. and Russia as co-chairs of the International support group in Syria. The President in his address made it clear that the agreement on a ceasefire should be the beginning of a political settlement in Syria, where civil war has continued since 2011, in which external forces also intervened.

The victims of the conflict total 470,000 people on both sides.

“I am convinced that the American party’s agreement with the joint action can radically affect the crisis in Syria. Finally a real chance appeared to put an end to years of bloodshed and violence. This result should facilitate humanitarian access to all needy Syrian citizens,” — said Putin.

“Russia will carry out the necessary work with Damascus — to the legitimate leadership of Syria. We hope that the United States will do the same with its allies and the factions that support them”, — he said.

At the same time, Putin made it clear that the ceasefire does not mean that the attacks on the banned in Russia terrorist groups ISIS and units of al-Qaeda in Syria — the group “Jabhat al-Nusra” — will cease.

U.S. President Barack Obama said, according to the White house, that “the priority today is to get a positive signal from the Syrian regime and the armed opposition”. We need to ensure “strict compliance” of the agreement with all parties to end the suffering of Syrians, aid the political process, organized by the United Nations, and “to focus on destroying ISIS”.

Finding a loophole

The text of the agreement says that the U.S. and Russia will share information about groups that have declared their commitment to the agreement, as well as “develop mechanisms” to stop attacks on those forces by the US, Russia and the forces of official Damascus. For monitoring, a Commission of the International support group in Syria, which will include representatives of Russia and the USA, will operate under the auspices of the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

According to the agreement, all parties to the conflict must refrain from fighting, using any weapons, except for permissible self-defense, and refrain from capturing territories and to provide an opportunity for the work of humanitarian organizations in the conflict zone.

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A specialist on the Middle East, the expert of the Russian Council on international Affairs, Yury Barmin, said that he is worried about the wording on the use of force for ‘self-defense’. “I think it’s a loophole for the continuation of the attacks. Some incidents will undoubtedly occur, and with the right of self-defence, these incidents can escalate into full-scale hostilities”, — said the expert.

The agreement was expected, as Russian officials said that it is likely to be accepted by 1st March. Between the US and Russia last week was an intense process of foreign negotiations.

Barmin called the agreement “an important step”, but said that he is not sure whether the attempt will be “successful”. “As I understand it, the Syrian side has played a minimal role in the negotiations this time, so they have yet to show persuading adherence to the agreement. And judging by the recent statements of Assad, in which he questioned the wisdom of the truce, problems can occur,” said Barmin.

Earlier, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad made disparaging remarks about a possible ceasefire in Syria, saying that Syria has no choice “but to pursue victory in the war.” In turn, the Russian diplomatic circles treated this statement critically  — Russia’s envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said that it is “dissonant” with the diplomatic efforts of Russia.

However, a few days ago, Assad’s rhetoric softened slightly, perhaps meaning that Moscow “worked with Damascus”.

According to experts, Russia made it clear to the Syrian leadership that achieving victory would not have been possible if not for the participation of the Russian aircraft.

Recently the Syrian military on the ground, with the support of the Russian airforces, were able to achieve the siege of Aleppo — the second most important city in the country, which gave an opportunity for the Russian authorities to get a serious trump card for negotiations.

The leading expert of the Brookings Institution’s Center in Washington, in the past a senior official of the U.S. Department of State, Steven Pifer, believes that, despite positive expectations from the ceasefire, they still must be “restrained”. “First of all, many — not only the U.S. and Russia — should behave appropriately, if the termination will take effect. Russian pilots also must limit its military campaign to only ISIS and “al-Nusra,” said Pifer to “Gazeta.Ru”.

The agreement between the United States and Russia, the agreement on a ceasefire in Syria and to start a political process, if it is implemented, will be the second joint solution after the transfer of chemical weapons from Syria to the control of the UN. This was done at the initiative of Putin, supported by the United States. The decision to remove chemical weapons from Syria has not allowed Washington to strike a blow on the country, to which everything was in place to do.

Putin stressed in his address that this experience was taken into account when working on the document. Experts noted an unprecedented level of cooperation between Russia and the United States, despite a marked deterioration of relations in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

It should be noted that in the statement of the President of the United States about the conversation with President Putin of Russia on the settlement in Syria mentions that the two presidents discussed the situation in Ukraine.

Obama pointed to the need for Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine to observe the Minsk agreements.

The purpose of the agreement on a ceasefire and the launch of a political settlement process in Syria is based on Geneva communiqué of 2012. It involves parliamentary elections controlled by the UN in Syria, as well as the formation of Executive power on the basis of “consensus parties.”

On Monday, Syrian President Assad announced the holding of elections in the country’s Parliament on April 13th of this year. According to experts, the mere holding of elections can be difficult, even in the conditions of a ceasefire as forces in Damascus are not in control of most of Syria.

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