On Feb 22, the leaders of Russia and the United States agreed on a ceasefire between governmental troops and “opposition” forces in Syria. This agreement is based on earlier agreements by Russian and US representatives. Thus, the Russians have managed to convince the Americans to negotiate on Syria. On Feb 12, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Munich to approve a ceasefire plan for Syria. The plan was to take force on Feb 19 but failed. Now presidents Putin and Obama have approved a new plan.
Both sides need this deal for tactical purposes only. President Obama needs it as a guarantee of no aggravations in the Middle East before the end of his term, while President Putin needs it as a way to keep Turkey and Saudi Arabia away from Syria.
According to Kerry, if implemented, the plan is supposed to pave the way for humanitarian cargo supplies and political change of government in Syria. It may also serve as a basis for new talks between Syrian “opposition” and the al-Assad government.
But this plan has a number of serious deficiencies. It has been approved by two great powers rather than conflicting parties. And it is not comprehensive. Fire will not be ceased against ISIL, al-Nusra Front and some other terrorist organizations. The Americans and the Russians are supposed to decide where fire will be ceased and where it will not. But with al-Nusra Front constituting 1/3 of the “opposition” forces, this plan may prove unrealizable in some territories.
On Feb 23, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said that the Syrian authorities were ready to stop all military activities, except for those aimed against ISIL and al-Nusra Front. On the same day Syrian President Bashar al-Assad scheduled the next parliamentary elections for Apr 13, 2016. But this decision will hardly be approved by the “opposition.”
The Kurdish self-defenders acting in the north of Syria are ready to observe the ceasefire. The “opposition’s” High Negotiations Commission is also ready to cease fire but will watch the governmental troops. The “opposition” expects the government to stop blockading certain cities and striking people from the air and the earth, to set free prisoners and to guarantee free cargo deliveries. In any case, the “oppositionists” regard this plan as just a break before new battles.
They and their sponsors need a pause for curbing the governmental troops’ attack on Aleppo and the Turkish border. The ruling regime has warned their opponents against using the ceasefire for strengthening their military positions.
Many analysts in the West are skeptical about the ceasefire plan. Kerry is not sure that it will work. British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond is also skeptical and has proofs that Kurds are cooperating with al-Assad’s and Russian troops in the north of Syria. UN Special Envoy for Syrian Crisis Staffan de Mistura is hopeful but also careful. In any case, the UN will watch how the plan will work once it is enforced.
Later Kerry warned that ceasefire did not mean automatic progress in the peace talks. He also warned that further war might result in Syria’s partition. By saying that there was plan B, Kerry de facto gave green-light to the “opposition” to wreck the plan A. If the plan A is wrecked, the “opposition” will be able to form an alternative government – High Negotiations Commission. The “opposition” is losing ground in its talks with the al-Assad regime. So, the Americans are considering alternative solutions.
The United States has openly warned that it will support the “opposition” if the ceasefire plan fails. Wall Street Journal has quoted a source from the Obama Administration as saying that neither the Pentagon nor the CIA believe that Russia will observe the ceasefire and are threatening the Russians with serious consequences. The Americans are now considering ways to protect the “opposition” from Russian air strikes. In fact, they are encouraging their military clients to break the ceasefire by promising them both political and military support. Wall Street Journal claims the opposite: Obama is not willing to supply his regional partners with modern air-defense systems as this may lead to a real war. But by mentioning these weapons, the Americans are warning the Russians against even higher activity in Syria.
Thus, we not only may but should expect provocations and attempts to wreck the ceasefire plan and to blame Russia for this.
Russia’s interference has given the upper hand to the Syrian Government but none of the parties to the Syrian conflict are exhausted enough to cry quits. On the other hand, none of the parties have enough resources to win. The governmental forces are not strong enough to capitalize on their success near Aleppo and to regain control over the Syrian-Turkish border. If the ceasefire plan is effected, Aleppo will not be taken back. This process will drag and the enemy will use this to restore its communication lines.
Besides, many in the West believe that Russia’s military campaign in Syria has broken the plans to create a no-fly zone – a shield that would protect the “opposition” from air strikes. If the ceasefire plan fails, the no-fly zone plans will be revived as will be threats to involve Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the conflict. Though very active on the ceasefire plant, the Americans and their allies ignore the factor of ISIL. Even if they manage to consolidate some territories under the aegis of the “opposition”-controlled Supreme Commission, they will not still be able to protect them from ISIL’s strikes.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau