27.02.2016 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Syria: a Unique Opportunity to End the Conflict

129625235_419749bThe agreement reached by Russia and the USA on a ceasefire in Syria from 27 February raised a lot of questions around the world as to whether the conditions of the document would be fulfilled. There are opposing opinions on the document: either the ceasefire agreement could be a prelude to further negotiations and the beginning of the end of the Civil War, or it will be an ordinary piece of paper, which will be massively neglected in the future. It is quite clear that everything depends on the position of the parties, their interests, and what they stand to gain should they choose to abide by the ceasefire.

Two distinct camps immediately formed, loudly stating their positions. On the one hand, these are people who really want a ceasefire, to end the civil war, and expect that the settlement of the Syrian conflict will be the first step towards the end of the bloody chaos, that the Middle East countries are involved in. This camp comprises, first of all, Russia with its clear position on the peaceful settlement of the civil war in Syria. Moscow believes that the agreement on a temporary ceasefire in Syria is not just another intermediate step in the history of the Civil War. The observance or violation of the ceasefire will demonstrate the ability of the truce guarantors – Russia and the United States – to influence their supporters in Syria. There is a lot at stake for Russia. Vladimir Putin presented himself as a guarantor of the new agreement and issued a special statement, which is an extremely rare case.

The President stressed that the ceasefire regime “completely excludes” the “Islamic State”, “Dzhebhat en-Nusra”, and other terrorist organizations recognized as such by the UN Security Council. “The attacks on them will be continued,” said Putin.

It is crucial that the USA and Russia, being co-chairs of the International Support Group for Syria, are ready to run an effective mechanism to monitor the observance of the ceasefire both by the Syrian government and the armed opposition groups. For this purpose, a dedicated hot line will be created and, if necessary, a working group on information exchange. Meanwhile in Syria, a coordination center for the reconciliation of the warring parties was launched in mid-February. The official representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said that this structure was created on the Russian Khmeimim airbase. Its main objectives are to promote the negotiation process of reconciliation between the Syrian authorities and the opposition, with the exception of DAISH, Dzhebhat en-Nusra, and other terrorist organizations, as well as obtain agreements on ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Russia will conduct the necessary work with Damascus – with the legitimate government of Syria. We hope that the United States will do the same with its allies and groups that are supported by them,” Putin said Moscow believes that consistent joint actions agreed with the USA can radically change the course of the Syrian crisis. Finally, there is a real chance to end years of bloodshed and violence. As a result, access to humanitarian aid for all the Syrian citizens in need should be facilitated.

Russia, as the main peacekeeper, proposed that the UN Security Council adopt a resolution for a ceasefire in Syria. As the deputy head of the Russian Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, at the moment consultations on this issue with the United States are ongoing.

The world welcomed the joint statement by Russia and the United States on the ceasefire in the region. In particular, this initiative was supported by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. If the agreement is adhered to, it will be a significant step forward in the implementation of resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council. It will ensure further creation of a favorable atmosphere for political negotiations.

However, the recent activity of the highest US officials is a sign of a serious split among leaders of the Obama Administration brought about by the situation in Damascus. Even before the ceasefire in Syria entered into force, the US security agencies had decided to play safe and elaborated the so-called “Plan B”. At the same time the Pentagon openly declare that they are not going to cooperate closely with the Russian Ministry of Defense and do not intend to work together.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has recently been trying to run a separatist policy, harshly criticized the joint agreement of Russia and the United States on the ceasefire in Syria, Haber Turk reported. According to Erdogan, the Turkish leadership considers a number of Kurdish associations fighting against militants in Syria (in particular, the “Democratic Union” (PYD), “People’s Protection Units” (YPG), and the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (PKK)) to be terrorists, along with groups of “Islamic State” and “Al Qaeda”. And this is where Ankara is at odds with Moscow and Washington.

But the situation for Ankara is getting worse every day. Turkey has found itself in a state of conflict with Russia, which is fraught with a direct military confrontation between the two countries, if Ankara opts to invade Syria, said Joseph Micallef, analyst from the Huffington Post. Moreover, the ambiguity of the Turkish policy towards DAISH, as well as Ankara’s obsession in the fight with the Kurds are the preconditions for a potential conflict between Turkey and the United States. Turkish foreign policy is in tatters. Erdogan’s attempts to make Turkey the center of the Sunni world have failed, says the Huffington Post columnist.

Anyway, there is currently a unique situation to put an end to the Syrian conflict. And this naturally requires the good will of all the parties involved in the civil war.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.