For months, the US and Russia have been busy wrangling over possible terms for a ceasefire in Syria.
In addition to the fact that getting everyone to the table is well nigh impossible given the multifarious nature of the opposition and given how contentious the relationship between Tehran and Riyadh has become, there’s also the issue of Bashar al-Assad’s fate. Russia and Iran are not prepared to accept an outcome that doesn’t at least give the President a role in the country’s political future and Washington’s regional Sunni allies are bound and determined to finish what they started by usurping the government at all costs.
Throw in the fact that no one really knows who the legitimate “opposition” really is (i.e. who is a terrorist and who is a “revolutionary” fighting for a democratic transition in Damascus) and you have a nearly impossible task when it comes to negotiating some kind of truce that at least temporarily stops the bloodshed.
Nevertheless, Washington and Moscow managed to strike a deal that’s being billed as a “ceasefire” and will go into effect on Saturday at midnight. The deal will “be applied to all those parties to the Syrian conflict that have indicated their commitment to accept its terms,” a statement reads. “It will exclude Islamic State, Al Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.”
"In a change to the previous aborted ceasefire, Russian and America have agreed to act as direct guarantors and monitors of the cessation of hostilities," The Guardian writes on the way to delivering the following spot-on take on why this has absolutely no chance of holding:
Key to the agreement issued on Monday will be co-ordination between Washington and Moscow to set out territories that are subject to the ceasefire, and therefore must not be subject to aerial bombing by Russia, attacks by the Syrian army or the American backed opposition. In view of the intricate interweaving of the various factions, the shifting alliances and complexity of the front lines in Syria communication between Russia and the US on the precise territory subject to a ceasefire will have to be tightly co-ordinated. The likelihood that either artillery fire or aerial bombardment will deliberately or inadvertently land in territory party to the ceasefire is high.
And therein lies the problem. There are ISIS and al-Nusra elements everywhere. Russia will always be able to claim that its warplanes are targeting parties not subject to the agreement because the situation on the ground is impossibly fluid. “This is a real chance to stop the bloodshed in Syria," Vladimir Putin said in a televised statement. “A radical turn in the crisis is now possible,” he continued.
Putin spoke to Obama by phone today about the agreement. “That call was placed at President Putin’s request,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in his daily briefing. “We are going to to continue to try to capitalize on this moment of opportunity.”
“I am gratified to see the final arrangements concluded today for a cessation of hostilities in Syria and call on all parties to accept and fully comply with its terms," John Kerry says. "If implemented and adhered to, this cessation will not only lead to a decline in violence, but also continue to expand the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian supplies to besieged areas and support a political transition to a government that is responsive to the desires of the Syrian people”.
Needless to say, the idea that Iran and Russia are going to stop firing now that they’re within weeks of retaking Aleppo proper is laughable. The war is very nearly won and besides, everyone involved claims to be bombing “the terrorists” and since “the terrorists” aren’t subject to the deal, it’s not at clear what exactly this will accomplish other than to perhaps to give whatever is left of the FSA and a few Saudi-backed militant groups a week or so of respite before Russia figures out an excuse to bomb them again.
Stay tuned to watch this unravel completely in a matter of days.