Russia Direct Blog

Pundits ponder on the future and implications of the Syria ceasefire deal

March 1, 2016

The U.S.-Russia agreement on the Syria ceasefire was in the spotlight of global media and think tanks last week. Likewise, Russia Direct has been extensively covering this deal and its implications for the world and the Middle East.


With a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the agreement, foreign policy pundits and former diplomats express both cautious optimism and skepticism. While some point out to flaws of the ceasefire deal, others highlight that the very fact of the agreement between Moscow and Washington is a big success, given Russia’s current confrontation with the West is far from over and Russia-Turkey relations are even more unpredictable.


For example, Nikolai Surkov, an expert of Russia Direct and an associate professor in the Oriental Studies Department of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University), argues that “we should not presume that the ceasefire and dialogue between the government and the opposition will bring peace to Syria.”


“If the Russia-U.S. ceasefire works, it will just signify the beginning of another stage of military confrontation, this time between Syrians and radical Islamists representing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations,” he wrote in column for Russia Direct.


Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is also among the skeptics. He questions the willingness of Russia to comply with its own provisions.


“So far the Russian intervention has been inefficient [in producing a political solution to the crisis],” Bahout told Russia Direct during the Valdai Discussion Club’s annual conference “The Middle East: From Violence to Security” that took place in Moscow on Feb. 25-26.


According to Bahout, the Kremlin might play a positive role in Syria only if it forces the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to start a dialogue with the opposition.


One of the signs indicating that the ceasefire agreement is very flawed, is the lack of trust between the U.S. and Russia. Remarkably, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned “Plan B,” implying that Washington might have an alternative scenario for Syria if Russia proceeds with its airstrikes in violation of the ceasefire regime.


“Some provisions of the ceasefire agreement allow for such an unfortunate scenario,” argues another author of Russia Direct, Nikolai Shecvehnko. “The agreement excludes terrorist organizations, primarily the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria.


“Given that the U.S. and Russia have still failed to draft a common list of terrorist organizations fighting in Syria (with Russia’s list being broader), the concern over the potential durability of the ceasefire is valid,” Shecvehnko added. “Recent speculations about Turkey’s plans to send ground troops to Syria cast yet another shadow on the fragile initiative to stop fighting in Syria.”


At the same time, one should keep in mind that the Syrian crisis is a multilayered conflict with local, regional and global dimensions, with some stakeholders and participants of the conflict remaining intransigent and reluctant to come up with a compromise as long as Assad is at the helm.


“This is to say that there are complicated lines of communication between the parties throughout all dimensions of the conflict,” wrote Russia Direct’s author Alexey Khlebnikov in his column.  “Where are the guarantees that proxies controlled by the U.S. and Russia will not violate the ceasefire?”


However, there is a silver lining in the very fact that the ceasefire agreement was finally signed. After all, it is better than constant finger pointing and intransigence between global players. This is the logic of Former Turkish foreign minister Yasar Yakis. He is among the cautious optimists. 


“The question is whether we are going to consider it as a total failure of the ceasefire or it will be regarded as an exception,” he told Russia Direct in an interview during the Valdai Club’s conference. “This is how we have to look at it: If a small negligible group breaches the ceasefire, should we regard the entire exercise as a failure? I think it should not be considered a failure.”


Yakis argues that the ceasefire deal between Russia and the U.S. is “the best that could be done under current circumstances.” At the same time, he admits that the major flaw of the agreement is its fragility. 


“The fragility of the Syrian crisis itself is the main obstacle for the ceasefire,” he said. “Also there is another subjective one: the parties should not grab an opportunity for the breach of the entire ceasefire if a negligible small group up in the mountains violates it.”


So, with the implementation of the ceasefire deal still in limbo, it remains to be seen to what extent it will be viable.



More about Russia Direct:


Russia Direct is an English-language expert-oriented publication on Russian foreign policy, domestic politics and economy founded in 2013. It produces analytical articles, expert interviews, book reviews and monthly reports. Four reports are distributed as print supplements to Foreign Policy magazine each quarter. The goal of Russia Direct is to create a platform for dialogue between Russian and international experts and decision makers and to provide a more nuanced understanding of Russia's position on global matters and developments inside the country.


For more analysis at Russia Direct, visit its website.

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