There could be a ceasefire in Syria as soon as Saturday, although the agreement doesn’t seem to do much in the way of actually ceasing any fire.
The new timeline for the hoped-for breakthrough comes after the two former Cold War foes, which are backing opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, agreed on terms for the “cessation of hostilities” between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and armed opposition groups. Those sides must accept the deal by Friday.
The truce will not cover the Islamic State, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and any other militias designated as terrorist organizations by the U.N. Security Council. Both the U.S. and Russia are still targeting those groups with airstrikes. The State Department made the five-page plan public after Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone Monday.
Even if the cease-fire takes hold, fighting will by no means cease in Syria.
Russia will surely press on with an air campaign that it insists is targeting terrorists, but which the U.S. and its partners say is mainly hitting “moderate” opposition groups and killing civilians. While IS tries to expand its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and neighboring Iraq, al-Nusra is unlikely to end its effort to overthrow Assad. The Kurds have been fighting IS, even as they face attacks from America’s NATO ally Turkey. And Assad has his own history of broken promises when it comes to military action.
All of these dynamics make the truce hard to maintain.
My takeaway from this is that the agreement allows Russia to continue doing what it’s been doing — bombing the bejeebus out of anti-Assad rebels while claiming they’re bombing the bejeebus out of ISIS. We’ll keep bombing ISIS and pretending we have some friends on the anti-Assad side. Turkey will lurch from one crisis to the next, while raining down artillery fire on anyone who even looks Kurdish.
The main difference going forward being that John Kerry gets yet another “peace in our time” moment for the TV cameras.