The new U.S.-Russia ceasefire deal in Syria reflects the changing situation on the ground in the war-torn state. The question, though, is how long Russia can maintain the current ceasefire agreement.
Pictured: A Syrian soldier in Aleppo. Photo: RIA Novosti
Despite the fact that the second Syrian ceasefire treaty between Russia and the U.S. came into effect on Sept. 12, violence between the opposition and government forces has persisted. On Sept. 15, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov decided to extend the ceasefire regime by 48 hours.
The ceasefire agreement stipulates the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Aleppo, the site of recent clashes between the U.S.-backed opposition and the Russian-backed forces of the Syrian government. It calls for the establishment of a Russian observation point within the so-called demilitarized corridor and the cessation of Russian air strikes in Syria. And, according to details that emerged on Sept. 16, the agreement also could result in the U.S. deploying more of its surveillance aircraft in Syria, as well as more intelligence coordination between the militaries of the U.S. and Russia.
The problem is that U.S.-Russia differences over the list of terrorist groups are still a stumbling point. And it was even more obvious during the August clashes between the U.S.-backed opposition and Russia-backed Syrian forces in Aleppo. These clashes claimed the lives of 1,000 people from both sides.
According to the Kremlin, the members of the terrorist organization Jabhat Al-Nusra, a Syrian branch of the notorious Al-Qaeda, were involved in these clashes and attacked the Syrian forces under the guise of the moderate opposition, which is supported by the U.S. Finally, the opposition was defeated by the troops of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the support of Russian air strikes.
In fact, there were about 70 strikes that contributed to the victory of Assad’s forces. The results of the Aleppo battle could not be the only reason why Moscow and Washington decided to come up with a new ceasefire agreement.
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At the same time, Turkey’s successful military intervention in Syria as well as its readiness to talk with Damascus, has also contributed to the reinvigorated U.S.-Russia diplomacy over Syria. With America having supported Ankara’s operation in Syria and Moscow and Washington having agreed over Aleppo, it remains to be seen if the ceasefire and the new status quo will last long enough to reach a political settlement of the conflict.
In fact, the current situation in Syria seems to be favorable for all stakeholders, including Russia and the United States. As Boris Dolgov, a research fellow of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), argues, the new ceasefire agreement “increases the odds of a breakthrough” in resolving the Syrian conundrum. This is what Russia sought to achieve through its military campaign in Syria, which the Kremlin launched almost one year ago.
However, one should take into account several nuances. First, the previous U.S.-Russia ceasefire agreement, signed on Feb. 22, failed to last. The violence resumed in early spring, so there’s little confidence that the new agreement will last even longer. Second, the U.S. and Russia decided on a ceasefire because the situation started spinning out of control once again.
In fact, Russia is going to be publicly accountable for maintaining the ceasefire in such a pivotal moment of the Syrian civil war, given its involvement in the conflict, the deployment of its forces in the so-called demilitarized corridor in Aleppo and the fact that the current U.S. presidential administration will step aside after the Nov. 8 elections this year.
Today, despite the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Aleppo, the establishment of Russia’s observation point in the area of the demilitarized corridor and the cessation of the Russian air strikes, the clashes between the opposition and Assad’s forces are still persisting, with the ceasefire regime having been violated about 60 times. Moreover, any attempts to divide the opposition into moderate and extremist groups have failed to come to fruition.
Most importantly, “the mutual distrust between Moscow and Washington has not been overcome,” as Elena Suponina, the advisor to the director of Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, argues.
In addition, Russia is concerned with the possibility of Turkey hitting Assad’s forces in Aleppo, given the unpredictable nature of Ankara’s foreign policy and its specific interests in Syria, which contradict the Russian ones. Such a scenario would undermine the ceasefire regime a great deal.
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In addition, Iran might reinvigorate its military efforts in Syria and hit the opposition, because the new ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Washington doesn’t take into account Tehran’s interests. Moreover, the second ceasefire deal might enable the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), which has been passive recently, to regroup and launch further attacks.
Thus, all stakeholders risk resuming another, more intensive and unpredictable war. Whether the new ceasefire will be longstanding depends primarily on Russia. So, it remains to be seen how long Russia is able to maintain the ceasefire regime in Syria.