Just days ago, members of negotiating parties in Washington and Moscow came to an agreement of a cease fire in parts of Syria. United States Secretary of State John Kerry made the announcement following days of lethal violence across Northern Syria. The cease fire brought forth a relative calm to parts of Syria for the first time in years. Despite the absence of US or Russian air strikes, the war against the Islamic State continued as the Jihadi extremists launched an attack on the Northern Turkish border town of Tal Abyad. The cease fire was an attempt to reduce Russian air strikes which have contributed to the nearly 25000 deaths in the region over the last 4 years. Additionally, the cease-fire included a “cessation of hostiles” which would allow for more humanitarian aid to enter the region. Some Syrian citizens are facing dire malnutrition as food supplies continue to dwindle amid the violence.
The cease fire went into effect at midnight Damascus time on February 27 and does not include ISIS militants or those involved with Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. Peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland have intensified following the failure of talks in late January as a result of the intensification of Russian air strikes. “The focus of the call was on the implementation of the Russian-American initiative for a cessation of hostiles in Syria and the relevant United Nations Security Council decision” Russia’s foreign ministry said in their statement posted on Facebook. Russian backed air strikes administered by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad have been directed towards hospitals and schools and have displaced more than 70,000 people in the first half of February alone. The air strikes administered by Moscow have been questionable in their intent. Having strong economic interest in the region, the U.S. State Department has been reluctant to work openly with Moscow, for fear that their interests do not align with ours in the war on terror. U.S. officials and analysts are skeptical about the legitimacy of the cease fire, as those prior have failed miserably. Yury Barmin, an analyst on Russian Middle East policy wrote, “The agreement on ceasefire in Syria won’t stick unless it specifically tells Russia what targets it can/can’t attack.” In recent past, Russia was still able to find loopholes in the agreement’s language and allowed them to bomb groups it considers terrorists organizations. The agreement calls for a halt to fighting by armed opposition groups in addition to Russian groups, which seems to be a direct reference to Iraqi, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces fighting in the region.
The report came from a CBS news correspondent who reported that there was evident fighting in the suburbs of Damascus controlled by opposition fighters. The identity of the opposition fighters is up to interpretation, as some would argue that they are affiliated with al-Nusra, in which case the attacks would be fair game. U.S. supported rebel factions told the Associated Press that if other groups continue to breach the agreement, they would be forced to retaliate accordingly. Russian officials have claimed that the military has developed a hotline to exchange info with the U.S. military to help monitor the ceasefire and control any possible conflicts or mistakes. The United States and Russia, under the agreement, are responsible for rebel units that accidentally come under attack. In addition to the attack in Tal Abyad, ISIS fighters also attacked the nearby village of Soluk, and a suicide bomb was set off in the central town of Salamiyeh which killed two and wounded four. Regions in the South have been calmer after the cease fire. The Syrian government and 97 rebel and militant groups claimed that it will abide by the cease-fire rules. Opposition groups claim that the cease fire will not be abided because of further efforts by the Syrian government to displace its people.
This cease-fire is a noble attempt by both the Russian and United States governments to stop the senseless civilian killings that result from their air strikes, however it is unrealistic to think that it will have any profound impact on the violence in the region. Unrest in the region is unlikely to stop any time soon, regardless of efforts from the world powers. The only real positivity that comes with it is the availability for humanitarian efforts to infiltrate regions that it once couldn’t, and it illustrates a change in Russian intentions for the better. However clearly, as shown from the attacks conducted by ISIS and al-Nusra, the violence is still far from over. U.N. officials main objective is that the future peace talks will have less to do with the specifics of the cease-fire and more to do with the central problem. U.N. Syria envoy Steffan de Mistura said, “We don’t want discussions in Geneva to become a discussion about infringements of not of the ceasefire, we want them to actually address the core of everything.” The United Nations peace talks have been temporarily suspended to allow the cease-fire to settle but will likely continue as the world looks to attempt to solve a humanitarian crisis that has killed more than 250,000, wounded over a million, and created Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.
-Sean Ryan ’18, Junior Politics/Opinions Editor