Ceasefire In Syria Declared — Is Putin Cooperating?

On February 12, a ceasefire in the bloody Syrian war was finally announced, according to BBC News. The hostilities between the warring factions were to cease following talks in Munich, Germany. Aid would be provided to the many wounded fighters and to deprived civilians.

The ceasefire would not apply to enemy group the Islamic State (aka ISIS). The gesture of goodwill would also not be extended to the al-Nusra Front.

“World powers have agreed to seek a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria to begin in a week’s time, after talks in Munich, Germany.

“The halt will not apply to the battle against jihadist groups Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front.

“The 17-member International Syria Support Group (ISSG) also agreed to accelerate and expand aid deliveries.

“The announcement comes as the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, advances in Aleppo province.”

Prior to the February 12 announcement, Iranian and Russian fighters had been battling with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group on the side of the Assad government. Fighting against Assad were Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. These fighters were allied with the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition and also enjoyed the support of the U.S., UK, and France.

Iran and Hezbollah, which is considered by many Western governments to be a terrorist group, both have ample troops and officers on the ground. The Western-led coalition and Russia are focused more on carrying out air strikes.

Some in the West have argued that Assad has considerable support among Syrian civilians, and the attempt by the Obama administration to oust Assad amounts to an unforgivable case of “meddling” in the affairs of a sovereign state.

That view was challenged this week when anti-Assad protests broke out in Syria as soon as the ceasefire was announced, with civilians demanding that Assad resign, as reported by USA Today.

Political analyst Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, who specialises in the impact and policies of Syrian opposition groups, said that the rebel coalition also wants refugees and displaced people to be allowed to return to their communities. The anti-Assad protesters are also demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, according to Lister.

RT reported hopefully that the ceasefire announcement has paved the way for an important transition in the region.

“During a conference call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy all agreed the Syrian ceasefire is a milestone achievement creating favorable conditions for inter-Syrian dialogue…The roadmap for a peace process in Syria, unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in December, also garnered support from the five heads of state.”

RT noted that “[i]t was also discussed that there is a strong need for tighter cooperation in dealing with the humanitarian crisis afflicting Syria and to eradicate rampant terrorism in the country.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel summed up the results of the talks. Merkel expressed a feeling of urgency about hurrying the peace process along.

“The political process must be initiated as soon as possible.”

Today, a dark cloud appeared to descend over the matter when Vice reported that all sides are actually violating the ceasefire.

Thankfully, Vice reported that the ceasefire has been successful in easing the violence, if not in stopping it completely.

“Since the truce went into effect, fighting has slowed in Syria, but reports on the ground indicate that it has not halted altogether. A steady stream of alleged violations by both sides has the potential to hamper peace talks scheduled to begin on March 9. Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab said on Friday the conditions for talks were “not favorable” but it was too early to say whether they would happen or not.”

Assad is not giving up without a fight, it seems. Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab reported that the government had attacked more than 50 opposition-held areas. The groups that approved the truce were startled by these surprise attacks, which came soon after the truce was announced.

A senior official from Jaish al-Islam, one of the largest rebel groups, told Reuters that Assad was taking advantage of the truce period by mobilizing forces to “occupy very important strategic areas.” The implication was that the anti-Assad fighters would find themselves a step back when fighting resumed.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin was a critical force in sealing the ceasefire agreement, according to Al Jazeera. The Western leaders relied on Putin to use his influence with his ally Assad to bring hostilities to a close.

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“The leaders of France, Britain, Germany and Italy [asked Putin] to use Russia’s influence over the Syrian government to abide by the truce.”

Some analysts have questioned whether Putin is truly an ally of the West in this conflict, fearing that he will fight in the interests of his ally Assad instead.

Angela Merkel, for one, seems convinced that Putin can be trusted. The German chancellor told European leaders that Moscow is committed to upholding the ceasefire.

Reassuringly, Putin also seems to be taking Assad’s violations of the ceasefire seriously. The Russian defence ministry appears, on the surface at least, to be reporting violations diligently.

“[On] Thursday, Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement it had registered 14 ceasefire violations in Syria over the past 24 hours.”

[Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool/AP]