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Syria’s cessation of hostilities is a positive step

Putin’s address following ceasefire agreement in Syria shows how much the conflict matters to Moscow

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

Russian President Vladimir Putin rarely gives addresses, so the fact the he gave one on Monday following agreement on a cessation of hostilities in Syria shows how much the conflict matters to Moscow.

Putin said the joint U.S.-Russian statement was preceded by intensive work by experts from both countries, and the positive experience of cooperating to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons played a significant role.

According to the deal, by the eve of Feb. 27 - the day when guns should fall silent - the warring sides should inform Washington and Moscow on their commitment to the cessation of hostilities. No military action will be taken against parties that commit to it. The agreement excludes internationally acknowledged terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra.

It includes the establishment of a communication hotline, and most likely of a working group to exchange relevant information. Putin said Moscow and Washington are ready to launch effective mechanisms to promote and monitor compliance by Damascus and armed opposition forces.

The cessation of hostilities covers all members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). Turkey will have to stop its attacks on Kurds, and the agreement will help prevent Russia from hitting non-ISIS targets.

Hope?

Putin rightly said the agreement has a chance to become “an example of responsible actions of the global community.” Recent weeks gave rise to deep concerns over the future of the Syrian peace process. Actions and statements by the powers involved, including Russia, were pushing the world to the precipice of a global conflict.

Now the international community and the Syrian people have a real chance to settle the conflict and hope for peace. However, that chance and hope are weak as long as the agreement itself is weak. It is not easy at all to pinpoint on a map which groups are committed to the cessation of hostilities.

This agreement shows that the parties to the conflict are still able to negotiate. The question is whether the sides are willing enough to make peace

Maria Dubovikova

For example, Jabhat al-Nusra’s positions are mixed with those of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The opposition has already shared its concerns that pro-regime forces will continue to hit rebel positions under the pretext of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded with a tough message to the rebels: “If you hang out with the wrong folks, you choose who you hang out with, and that sends a signal.” In addition, Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish militias could continue despite the cessation of hostilities, undermining the peace process and coalition forces’ efforts to fight ISIS.

In any case, this agreement shows that despite all the problems, the parties to the conflict are still able to negotiate. It would have been much better for the Syrian people if such an agreement were reached two or three years ago, when the crisis was not so entrenched and not so many lives were lost. But better late than never. The question that remains is whether the sides are willing enough to make peace.

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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.