What Russia Agreed to in Syria Is Not a Ceasefire
The Joint US-Russian Statement on Syria is not a declaration of a ceasefire. It is an attempt by the Russians to split the Free Syrian Army – and its US backers – from the jihadi terrorists Russia is bombing.
The US-Russian Joint Statement on Syria is attracting a lot of attention. Its text – as provided by the US Statement Department – is set out below.
The Statement is being misinterpreted as a declaration of a ceasefire.
It is nothing of the sort and the term “ceasefire” does not appear in it, though it is used in one or two places in the Annex.
A ceasefire require a complete end to all hostilities.
The Statement not only does not require this, but on the contrary it specifically authorises military action by the Russian and Syrian armed forces against armed jihadi groups operating in Syria which are classified as terrorist groups by the UN Security Council.
Quite obviously there cannot be a ceasefire when military action is continuing, which is why the Statement does not use the term “ceasefire” but refers instead to a “cessation of hostilities”.
Amongst the jihadi groups against whom military action – including Russian military action – will continue are the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra – the latter being the local branch of Al-Qaeda.
The Russians have always insisted the only groups they are bombing are the very same jihadi terrorist groups that are specifically excluded from the “cessation of hostilities” or – to use simpler language – from the planned truce.
They even claim they are already cooperating with the non-jihadi rebels, who they say have been providing them with targeting information to bomb the jihadis more effectively.
It is widely acknowledged that the great majority of the rebel fighters in Aleppo come from the jihadi terrorist groups that are excluded from the truce.
The Statement does not therefore limit Russian bombing beyond the limitations the Russians always claimed they had placed on themselves, and is unlikely therefore to make much practical difference to the fighting that is going on in and around Aleppo and its environs.
The US and the Western powers did in fact try to press the Russians to agree to a complete ceasefire involving every group apart from the Islamic State – and even extending to Jabhat al-Nusra i.e. to Al-Qaeda.
The Russians said no, and the Statement reflects their thinking.
In fact the Russians have been trying to broker a truce between the various Syrian parties – excluding the various jihadi terrorist groups – ever since the Syrian conflict started in 2011.
This was also Kofi Annan’s objective in his peace plan, which all the sides to the Syrian conflicted purported to accept at a conference in Geneva in 2012.
All attempts to agree a truce have however so far failed because the US, the other Western powers, Turkey, the Gulf States and the Syrian opposition have all insisted on Assad’s removal as a precondition before talks can begin.
Since that amounts to a demand the Russians and the Syrians agree to regime change the Russians and the Syrians have always rejected it – in the case of the Russians it is contrary to the fundamental principles upon which their foreign policy is founded.
The US-Russian Joint Statement is the latest attempt to broker a truce.
It attempts to peel off what the Russians consider legitimate rebel groups – such as the so-called Free Syrian Army – from the jihadi terrorist groups Russia is bombing by requiring them to contact the US and Russia by no later than noon on 26th February 2016 to confirm their commitment to the truce.
In order to guard against the possibility of a flood of jihadi fighters simply relabelling themselves the Free Syrian Army a Task Force co-chaired by the US and Russia is being set up to monitor the truce, with a hotline established between the US and Russians to exchange information about it.
As for any rebel groups that fail to inform the US and the Russians by noon on 26th February 2016 of their commitment to cease fire, the Russians will treat them as aligning themselves with the jihadi terrorists, and will bomb them, with the US no longer having grounds to raise objections.