Aleppo is the key to peace in Syria

Aleppo crisis represents a major failure of both Russian and American diplomacy

Maria Dubovikova

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The ceasefire in Syria that was brokered by Washington and Moscow made a diplomatic settlement of the conflict possible, but not guaranteed, for the first time since the bloodshed began in 2011. Negotiations can only make progress with a sustainable ceasefire.

The cessation of hostilities took effect on Feb. 27, after which a transition period appeared to be more achievable than ever, despite the differences between the negotiating sides being enormous.

Ceasefire violations did not initially threaten the peace process. Concerns mounted with rumors that the forces belonging to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were going to launch an offensive on Aleppo. With clashes in the area becoming regular, causing dozens of deaths every day, the entire negotiation process became untenable.

The crisis of Aleppo represents a major failure of both Russian and American diplomacy. They failed to develop proper mechanism to ensure compliance with the ceasefire at the right time and could not react to the challenges in a proper manner.

The establishment of the US-Russia Monitoring Center for Syria - announced by Russia’s Foreign Minister Serguey Lavrov after his meeting with the UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday - is an important step. However, it has come too late and it is still unclear how it will function and ensure compliance.

The agreement reached on Wednesday between the US and Russia to extend Syria truce to Aleppo should have been implemented before violence broke out.

Taking responsibility

Russia's patronage of Assad has given him a sense of impunity and confidence that Moscow will support him whatever he does. However, it is very unlikely that the bloodshed in Aleppo is happening with Russia’s tacit consent, given its efforts and role in the peace process.

However, it should be admitted that Russia is really too soft with the regime in Damascus and does not use all its influence. However, claims of Russian bombing of Aleppo are false, and are part of a media war by those hostile to Moscow.

Russia does not use barrel bombs, which are reportedly being dropped on the city. It only uses high-precision weapons. Thus, the responsibility for what happens on ground lies entirely on ground forces, and not just on Assad’s. US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the missile attack on a hospital in Aleppo on Tuesday and said that it appeared to have been carried out from rebel-held territory. Kerry’s revelations do not spare the ruling regime's responsibility, but brings in a sense of justice.

Russian patronage of Assad has given him a sense of impunity and confidence that Moscow will support him whatever he does

Maria Dubovikova

To prevent further speculation in this regard, Russia has withdrawn, from its air military base Hmeymim, all its Su-25 bombers. Its military presence in Syria has now become very modest and is aimed exclusively at fighting ISIS and al-Nusra.

The limitation of military presence contributes to the balance of forces on the ground, on the negotiations process and on the long and complex process of trust-building. Acute distrust between the warring parties is a primary cause of ceasefire violations but such violations in Aleppo can have particularly far-reaching and dangerous consequences for Syria and the region.

Bringing an end to the violence in Aleppo is vital. International players must implement permanent ceasefire and prevent any violation. Temporary truce will not save lives of civilians but, most likely, just delay their deaths. The 48-hour truce confirmed by Syrian military is nothing considering the scale of the tragedy and the threat of escalation, which could further dampen the peace process.

Moscow must use all its leverage on the Assad regime, which needs to stop feeling that it can hide behind Russia. Russia should make it clear that Damascus’ irresponsible acts will not be tolerated anymore.

The key to peace in Syria is a tough, respected and regulated nationwide ceasefire, which excludes terrorists and extremist groups. Significant steps taken by international players, albeit late, gives us hope that this key to peace will not be lost.
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

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