Syria had a good chance to solve the ongoing conflict but seems to have squandered it. The Geneva agreement reached by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov following marathon negotiations is about to collapse.
The two-day ceasefire was not renewed as the Syrian military said they are not going to fulfill it unilaterally (they said the opposition had been violating it). The US says it is prepared to extend the Syrian truce, despite violations and the Syrian announcement that it is over, as according to the State Department the ceasefire deal was reached with Russia, not the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The controversy and absurdity started even before the Kerry-Lavrov Geneva agreement. Both sides have been negotiating the truce while accepting that much of the belligerent parties will not sign up to it. So, it is an exercise in futility and the ceasefire has been violated while opposition forces used the lull in activity to regroup.
The situation took a turn after the US-led coalition mistakenly targeted the Syrian army in air strikes that were meant to target ISIS positions. In explaining the mistake, the US reverted to its go-to statement that “Syria is a complex situation with various military forces and militias in close proximity, but coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit,” or so US Central Command said.
The US further promised that the strike would be reviewed and lessons would be learned. Russia, for its part, was not satisfied with the response and it is easy to see why. The US would not be satisfied with such an explanation if, while targeting the al-Nusra Front, the Russians were to strike US-backed forces instead.
Russia began to spread panic and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Russia apparently forgot that it once mistakenly struck the Syrian army during the Palmyra offensive and the death toll was quite significant.
It important to stress that the emergency meeting of the UNSC was called after another on Syria was canceled as Washington refused to reveal the contents of the agreement with Russia.
It is suspicious that Russia is interested in discussing the Syrian case on the global stage while the US seems to want to limit the input of international institutions. It seems that the UN’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is limited to the role of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
There is a truth that we need to look straight in face. There is no way to end the violence and there is no more possibility of peaceful negotiationsMaria Dubovikova
In my opinion, the US has reason to be discontent with Russia about calling the emergency meeting of the Security Council over the coalition strikes that led to the death of more than 60 Syrian soldiers. The US officially admitted its mistake, immediately stopped airstrikes and officially apologized and sent condolences to the families of the victims.
For its part, when Russia was in a similar position, it did not apologize to the moderate opposition when it hit their positions. Furthermore, Russia never admitted and recognized such facts and yet the US did not call for a similar meeting at the UNSC. The only difference is that in one case we have a state and its forces (Syria and the army) and in the other case we have a sub-state actor, the Syrian opposition.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power left the emergency UNSC meeting in demonstration of her disagreement with the move and that can be extrapolated out to signify the American stance on the matter. Russia is openly accusing the US of undermining the reached agreement.
A crumbling situation
The next day, the Syrian military announced the end of the ceasefire and blamed rebel groups for undermining the agreement. Aleppo was hit with airstrikes for the first time this week on Monday. Since then, 35 airstrikes have been carried out and it was announced that the al-Nusra Front had begun an offensive Aleppo.
In such messy circumstances, the US declaration that this ceasefire agreement was reached between the US and Russia is beginning to look quite awkward. There is no doubt that a lot of the suspicion and misunderstanding regarding what is currently happening would be cleared up if the content of the agreement was to be made public.
Both countries are playing games in Syria, gaining time and pursuing their own interests. The situation raises more questions than answers. The conflict is moving toward a military resolution, one that promises to be violent and dangerous.
A humanitarian aid convoy was bombed overnight. Anger is rising. It seems that French confidence that the resolution of the conflict is in the hands of the US and Russia is mere wishful thinking. The same can be said of Staffan de Mistura’s stance that resolving the conflict is one step away.
There is a truth that we need to look straight in face. There is no way to end the violence and there is no more possibility of peaceful negotiations. Parts of the moderate opposition have radicalized, having lost hope in a political solution and many consider a military solution the way forward. The international community has to be ready for a long and bloody continuation of the conflict, at least until the death toll and devastation reach such level that both sides will have to rethink the situation. The international community will continue facing the dramatic refugee crisis that will affect global stability, influencing the world and particular countries separately.
Neither Russia nor the US have the keys to resolve the conflict. The Syrians have lost the keys and have chosen the military solution. Maybe they will find them again, but the cost in terms of human lives will be enormous.
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