By Kerem Tuncer
On July 7, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, the Presidents of Russia and the United States respectively, met during the G20 talks in Hamburg, Germany. In a conversation that lasted two and a half hours, partially recorded by the media, they spoke about numerous topics, including the situation in Ukraine and Syria.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, affirmed that Jordan, the United States, and Russia were able to arrive at a ceasefire agreement that would cover Southwest Syria, mainly around the Jordan-Syria border. According to the official report, the ceasefire would take effect at 09.00 GMT on July 9th.
Beginning of the Syrian turmoil
Since the Arab Spring of 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war, resulting in the deaths of about 5 million people and displacing another 12 million. The conflict began as an unrest between the Russia-backed Assad government and the Turkey-backed opposition against Assad’s totalitarian regime. However, the war grew to include the radical organisation, Islamic State (IS) as well as the U.S.-backed Rojava forces. At present, the four groups divide Syria into different regions – Rojava controlling the North, ISIS commanding Mideast, the Assad government over the Midwest, and the opposition controlling enclaves in various parts of the war-torn country. Although they have been mostly unsuccessful, peace talks have been taking place since the beginning of 2016. All ceasefire attempts have failed as they were deemed partial or were refused to be signed by several groups.
A new door opens
Former U. S. President, Barack Obama, struggled to find a strategy that would benefit all sides of the conflict and end the war. Consequently, journalists criticised him for his lack of competence on the issue. “I think this is our first indication of the U. S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that, we have had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on, to de-escalate them,“ said Secretary Tillerson. Because of the Trump administration’s close relationship with Russia, experts believe that the new government has a much higher chance of materialising a real resolution. The decision taken during the G20 talks is an example of this close relationship.
Although the U. S.-backed Kurdish forces do not often come into contact with the Russia-backed Assad government, they have held different perspectives. Unfortunately, Russia and the U. S. were not able to cooperate, even though they shared the goal of creating a safe and free regime that would not be influenced by any outside forces.
Towards a compromise
The beginning of the civil war had the Moscow administration backing Assad’s controversial regime. Although not officially confirmed, the current circumstances surrounding Syria is pushing Russia to withdraw its support to the Assad government. “How Assad leaves is yet to be determined,” Tillerson told reporters at the G20 summit in Hamburg, “There will be a transition away from the Assad family.” He also added that there is a level of commitment on the part of the Russian government. On the other hand, the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, reported that there has yet to be a planned compromise regarding the war. Instead, the Russians asserted that the decision of removing Assad should be taken by the Syrian people alone.
Russia has an upper hand
Robert Ford, a former U. S. Ambassador to Syria, believes that the Trump administration, like that of Obama’s, has no actual goal, or even a way to secure the outcome of that goal. Yet, he stated, “The Russian objective is to insulate Damascus and the Syrian national government from outside pressure trying to pressure it into major concessions.” Due to geographical proximity, Russia remains a stronger actor in the civil war. Additionally, the America-supported Kurds are much weaker compared to the Russia-backed Assad regime. Unless the Washington administration has something else in mind, Russia seems to benefit more from this deal.
Instability still ensues
The first partial ceasefire, catalysed by the International Syria Support Group, was enacted on 26th February 2016. However, by July 2016, it had mostly ended, and violence, again, had escalated. There was another effort for a ceasefire in September 2016 between the U. S. and Russia. But it was formally declared over when a U. S. -British airstrike, aimed at the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), instead killed numerous Syrian government soldiers. Two more ceasefire attempts took place but later halted when several rebel groups denied participating. Given that history repeats itself, it may be improbable that this ceasefire remains permanent as well.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt