US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that the US and Russia have agreed to terms for a general ceasefire in Syria. Leksika explores the terms of the ceasefire agreement, promises of new US-Russia counterterrorism coordination, and the reactions of various factions active in the conflict. This ongoing report will be revised as new developments come to light.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry has announced an official US-Russia deal for a ceasefire in Syria – effective September 12th.
"Today we are announcing an arrangement that we think has the capability of sticking, but it's dependent on people's choices," Kerry said in an appearance with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Russian and American forces will coordinate in attacks against so-called Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets (including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the al-Nusra Front, which has broken its ties with al-Qaeda central in recent weeks).
Specific details are as follow from Secretary Kerry’s official statement:
“First, we agreed on the steps through which the regime will come to a place where it will not fly combat missions anywhere where the opposition is present in an area that we have agreed on with very real specificity (emphasis added). Once this arrangement takes full effect, the regime would no longer be able to do in the future what it has been able to do so much in the past, which is go after Nusrah allegedly but hit moderate opposition and mask attacks against the legitimate opposition by claiming that it’s going after Nusrah.”
Kerry is likely referring to the ongoing battles north of Homs and in areas surrounding Damascus, in each of which government forces are targeting various rebel factions under the pretext of attacking Jihadist positions.
“Second, the United States and Russia have agreed on steps which we will take, providing there is a sustained period of reduced violence. And after that sustained period of violence, we have agreed that we will then work together – providing both access and reduced violence have been provided for the period of time – we would then work together to develop military strikes against Nusrah.”
Al-Nursa, turned Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, is one of the most active opposition forces in Northwest Syria, exerting influence over many armed factions and forming a quasi-state in opposition-held areas. Russia has long called for Nusra to be targeted, viewing the group as posing a comparable danger to ISIL. Jihadist forces operating in the North Caucasus have historically maintained closer ties to al-Qaeda than to ISIL, likely informing this Russian strategy.
“Third, in Moscow we also said before we could move forward with the steps that we have identified, we would need seven days of adherence (emphasis added) to the cessation of hostilities in order to convince the people of Syria and the opposition that the actions of the regime and its supporters will be consistent with the words that we put on paper. And I’ve talked to you previously about the words on paper not meaning anything unless the actions follow them up. Now, of course, the opposition will also be expected to adhere to the cessation of hostilities, and that is why today the United States and Russia together are calling on all sides to recommit to a nationwide cessation of hostilities and to honor its previous terms. This will be effective at sundown on September 12th.”
“Now, finally, beginning September 12th, we will then commence preparatory work for a Joint Implementation Center. And these preparations will include initial discussions and some sharing of information necessary for the delineation of territories controlled by Nusrah and opposition groups in the area of active hostilities. And then the more comprehensive process of delineation will be conducted by experts once the joint implementation group – the center, or so-called JIC – once the center is established. Now, once it is established after seven continuous days of adherence to the cessation of hostilities and increased humanitarian access, then U.S. and Russian experts will work together to defeat Daesh and Nusrah.”
Reactions from All Sides
Various opposition factions have had divided reactions to the agreement with many Islamist groups directly rejecting it. Other factions affiliated with the ‘Free Syrian Army’ have announced openness to the deal, provided that Syrian government and Russian forces comply with it (though most FSA spokesmen seem less-than-optimistic). Kerry’s direct cautions that “No one is building this based on trust,” and “It is based on oversight, compliance, mutual interest. This is an opportunity, and not more than that until it becomes a reality” do little to build additional confidence.
Lebanese Hezbollah, a critical Assad ally, has also endorsed the deal. With thousands of fighters on the ground, the Shi’ite “Party of God” has been one of the main actors in Syria for years, arguing that the stability of the Syrian government is in Lebanon’s national security interest.
The merits of the ceasefire have been debated in Iranian media, with no official statements being made at the time of this report. Iranian troops (including IRCG Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani) arrived in Southern Aleppo during the time of the negotiations, solidifying Syrian government positions on the perimeter of the besieged city.
According to the state-affiliated Anadolu News Agency, Turkey is ‘satisfied’ with the US-Russia deal, following a phone call between Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu and John Kerry on Saturday. Turkey’s recent incursions into northern Syria were likely agreed to by Russia beforehand, with Russian airstrikes specifically avoiding the Turkish area of operation since its initiation.
Most Kurdish groups fear being once again abandoned by the US, especially in light of Turkey’s entry into the war. Kurdish militias including the YPG (and the female counterpart YPJ), the Syrian Democratic Forces, and others have been the most effective fighters on the ground war against ISIL, liberating large portions of territory beyond traditional Syrian Kurdistan. The establishment of a de-facto state known as Rojava in this territory poses a threat to Turkey’s strategy, likely contributing to their decision to intervene in Syria.
Leksika will continue to monitor the situation and post updates as they develop.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons