The long-ranging conflict in Syria finally saw a ray of hope early Saturday morning as the United States and Russia entered a military agreement to cease hostilities across the war-torn region.
The agreement comes after months of unsuccessful negotiations between the two major stakeholders in Syria, even as the Middle Eastern country grapples with one of its most violent periods in history. The Syrian conflict has led to the deaths of nearly half a million people since fighting between armed rebels and President Assad’s army began in 2011, prompting one of the largest exoduses in modern history. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Syrian crisis has led to the displacement of 4.8 million people outside the country, while another 6.6 million people have been internally displaced in Syria.
While the United States supports moderate rebels fighting against government forces, the loyalties of the Kremlin lie with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, who is keen to hold on to power in the conflict-torn region. But that initial binary of the conflict has been made increasingly complex with the entry of different players in Syria over the course of the last five years — both nationalist forces and Islamist terror groups like the so-called Islamic State — leading to a huge humanitarian crisis in the region.
The current year has seen an escalation in conflicts as the United States and Russia continue to aid opposing sides, even as both countries have made a commitment to disarming — and eventually eliminating — the more extreme terror groups like ISIS and Syria’s al-Qaeda front.
On Saturday, after weeks of suspended political agreements, the United States and Russia reached a military agreement that would see both parties cease hostilities from sunset on Monday, and allow humanitarian access to hard-to-reach areas, including eastern Aleppo, where about 250,000 are reportedly stranded, according to BBC.
“The cessation of hostilities requires access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, including Aleppo,” United States Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday.
The agreement between the U.S. and Russia would also see the two countries establish a “joint implementation center” to fight the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda-allied Nusra fighters. Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, said the joint implementation center would allow Russian and U.S. forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition.”
Both countries also made a commitment to launch coordinated air-strikes against the extremist terror groups.
“We have agreed on the areas where such coordinated strikes would be taking place, and in those areas, on neutral agreement shared by the Syrian government as well, only the Russian and US air force will be functional,” Sergey Lavrov said.
While the agreement is certainly a positive development in that it is the first serious attempt by the United States and Russia to withhold attacks against each other’s respective aides in the Syrian conflict, until such an action plan is effectively carried out on the ground, experts believe that it will not amount to a significant reduction in the violence across the region.
Even so, John Kerry said that the military agreement will result in a “genuine reduction in violence” across Syria, adding that it was based on “oversight and compliance,” rather than any newfound “trust” between the United States and Russia, according to the New York Times.
The details of the agreement will not be released to the public, especially considering vested interests in the region are intent on creating disruptions to any attempts at peace in Syria, Lavrov said.
“We cannot make these documents public. They contain rather serious, sensitive information. We don’t want it to fall into hands of those who would surely try to disrupt the implementation of the measures stipulated within in the framework of humanitarian delivery supplies and in other parts of our agreements.”
The success of the agreement will depend on whether or not the United States can convince the more moderate rebel groups from distancing themselves from the extremist groups, while Russia would need to show that it can restrain President Assad’s forces. But John Kerry hopes the agreement will finally be the first step to lasting peace in the region.
“The plan is more prescriptive and far reaching than any proposal to date and if implemented by all sides could allow political negotiations to take place on Syria’s future.”
It remains to be seen if the new military agreement between United States and Russia leads to longstanding peace in the war-torn region, but it could lead to a new diplomatic relationship between the two countries concerning the future of Syria.
[Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP]