Can Russia and the US bring peace to Syria?

The ceasefire that has been in force in Syria for just under a week threatens to break down. According to observers, fighting in Aleppo has flared up once again. Dozens of soldiers were killed on Saturday in an airstrike which the US has admitted unintentionally hit Syrian government troops, while hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in need of assistance. Commentators doubt whether Moscow and Washington will be able to keep the warring parties in check.

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The Independent (GB) / 18 September 2016

Don't overrate big players' influence in Syria

We must not succumb to the illusion that the ceasefire brokered by Washington and Moscow will be enduring merely because the two states are so powerful, The Independent warns:

“It is still unclear how far the US and Russia are able to force their allies into line and how far they are pulling their punches in doing so. The US can put pressure on the Syrian rebels to abide by a ceasefire by leaning on their outside backers in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but will this pressure be enough? In less than two months the US presidential election will produce a different occupant of the White House, who may have a new Syria policy. ... It is much in the interests of Russia to make this deal work, but it has difficulty in getting President Bashar al-Assad to do what it wants, even if he is militarily reliant on it.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) / 15 September 2016

First hopeful signs of peace

Now that Washington has taken a clear stance against the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham jihadist group - formerly al-Nusra Front - an agreement between the warring parties can really be reached this time, Corriere della Sera believes:

“The 'truce of Aleppo' will hopefully go down in history not just because it means the aid supplies will reach the city's survivors but also because of its political character. US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that in future the US will give its approval for Assad's government troops to carry out air strikes against the jihadists. This is effectively a change of direction in Obama's policy. … If the truce holds and withstands the sabotage attempts likely to be carried out by the rebels the ceasefire could lead to an agreement between Russia and the US that restores stability in the region. No doubt it will take some time, but this is the first time in many years that a ray of hope has appeared.”

Le Point (FR) / 15 September 2016

Paradoxical rapprochement between US and Russia

High-level US officers have voiced reservations about the joint military operations against the IS and the former al-Nusra Front spearheaded by John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov. For Le Point these reservations are understandable in view of the historical animosity between the two states:

“What we are seeing is a cooperation between the general staffs of these two countries that is unprecedented since the end of World War II. The two armies have ceaselessly competed against each other in terms of surveillance, arms, the search for weaknesses and the preparation of plans of attack. ... The paradox is that the current rapprochement is taking place at a time when the two countries are pitched against each other directly or indirectly right across Eastern Europe, from the Balkans to Ukraine.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) / 15 September 2016

Ceasefire with a hidden agenda

The sudden ceasefire in Syria comes as a surprise and appears to be no more than a pretext for pursuing other goals, columnist Faruk Aksoy writes in the Islamic-conservative daily Yeni Şafak:

“What has changed in Syria for the US and Russia to agree on a ceasefire? After sacrificing the Syrian people for five whole years the ungodly parties have now been moved by the [Muslim] Festival of the Sacrifice to establish a ceasefire? ... This truce is just a game organised by players who don't want to end the war but rather to make sure it drags on and on. Who wants to do this and for what reason, I have no idea. But Turkey shouldn't silence its weapons until its objectives have been reached.”

Aamulehti (FI) / 14 September 2016

Key issue still unresolved

The ceasefire hasn't brought Syria any closer to peace because a crucial issue has still not been addressed, Aamulehti laments:

“What would be the next step to end the nightmare and restore normality in this war-torn country? … Many observers in the West believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin holds the key to peace. … Russia didn't intervene in the Syrian war for humanitarian reasons but to strengthen its position in the Middle East. So we can assume that Russia will stand by Assad's government as long as there aren't any better alternatives for controlling Syria as an ally in this strategically key region. As regards peace in Syria Assad's fate is the crucial question which remains unresolved despite the welcome rapprochement between the US and Russia.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) / 14 September 2016

Turkey and US must cooperate

Despite all the contentious issues between the US and Turkey the ceasefire in Syria should be seen as an opportunity, Hürriyet Daily News advises:

“It is no secret that Turkey and the U.S. are still at odds over a number of issues concerning the PYD’s future role in the anti-ISIL fight. But this is not the time for both allies to waste their energy on desperately trying to convince each other how to regard this group, because the truce deal offers an important window of opportunity for all sides. If U.S. and Russia can establish their Joint Implementation Center to coordinate the fighting against ISIL and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front), Turkey will have a lot to contribute to this effort. ... In sum, Turkey and the U.S. need to find a way to turn this mess into a new opportunity to both fight against jihadists and overcome their differences. As Kerry said, this is the last chance.”

The New York Times (US) / 13 September 2016

Division of Syria inevitable

The US and Russia may now push through a solution that the Syrian government and its opponents have rejected so far, writes Anne Barnard, Beirut bureau chief of the New York Times:

“In this ad hoc, fast-moving chess game, the outlines of an informal soft division of Syria into spheres of influence is continuing to take shape: a Turkish-sponsored rebel enclave in the north, Kurds restricted to the northeast, the Iran- and Russian-backed government in control of Damascus and the coast, and Hezbollah controlling large strips of territory bordering Lebanon. The one thing the government and many of its opponents have always agreed on is that they oppose the division of Syria. But their foreign backers, pursuing their own interests, may insist on a de facto partition.”

Akşam (TR) / 13 September 2016

Partition would be security risk for Turkey

The allies must do everything they can to prevent a division of Syria, the pro-government daily Akşam warns:

“It is crucial to protect Turkey's security and the territorial unity of Syria and Iraq. Therefore the border region must be purged of all terror and terrorist organizations so that the border with Syria becomes a permanently safe area. The territory between Al-Bab and Manbij is extremely important here. The US has also proposed an operation directed towards Raqqa. From the Turkish point of view this would only make sense and be realistic if the US doesn't just pledge backing but sends in ground troops that operate under a joint leadership.”

Adevârul (RO) / 11 September 2016

Moscow and Washington reach bilateral understanding

The Russian-American collaboration in Syria could be successful, writes Adevărul:

“Just when the tensions between the US and Russia threatened to escalate into open conflict comes the surprising news that the two are working on a joint plan. … Both players have realised that they can't rule forever over a terrain in which the conflicts are becoming so arbitrary and frequent that the two superpowers could end up losing control of the situation. Is this agreement a sign of bilateral understanding (resembling the logic of the Cold War) that could be extended to other conflict regions? … Perhaps yes, if we look at the immediate enthusiastic reaction of the UN, which may supervise the implementation of the agreement. It would be a kind of confirmation of the UN's right to exist, which is so controversial at an international level.”

The Guardian (GB) / 12 September 2016

Retro strategy won't work in Syria

The conflict in Syria is too multi-layered to be ended by Washington and Moscow alone, writes the Guardian:

“The fact that the plan is underwritten by the US and Russia doesn’t guarantee success. Almost 25 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a US-Russia deal about a third country has a distinctly retro feel. Syria’s civil conflict may have turned into a wider war, but there are many more players and proxies vying for the spoils than there were in any cold war contest. Washington and Moscow can no longer snap their fingers and command hostilities to stop. ... Russia’s hold over Assad is debatable, as is US influence even over its Nato ally Turkey, let alone the various armed groups operating with western support.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) / 12 September 2016

Assad's plan seems to be working

The ceasefire is a stage win for Bashar al-Assad, according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The agreement makes no mention of Assad stepping down. The Syrian ruler's strategy seems to be working. With sieges and bombings he has brought rebellion strongholds to their knees, trampled on international law and played a decisive role in the radicalisation of the rebellion. For many democratic activists the fact that the Americans seem to have come to terms with Assad remaining in office is a bitter pill to swallow - and a damning indictment of America. With this agreement Russia has managed to enlist the Americans in a joint battle against the Syria al-Qaeda offshoot. But what will happen if the rebels withdraw from the joint front with the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham? Will the Americans simply look on as Assad's troops advance into the resulting vacuum?”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) / 11 September 2016

Big powers get cold feet

The big powers are seeking peace because they fear the war could spiral out of control, Il Sole 24 Ore comments:

“The US has become caught up in its own contradictions in the Middle East. It uses the Kurds against the IS, while Turkey - a Nato member almost from day one - is fighting them. The Saudis, among Washington's closest allies, have bought 100 billion dollars worth of weapons in the eight years of Obama's presidency. But they haven't managed to win either the proxy war in Syria or the war in Yemen. Instead, they're now threatening Iran. ... But by supporting the Shiite government in Baghdad in its efforts against the IS caliphate, the Iranians have also become allies of the US. ... Putin, in turn, knows that Assad - like Erdoğan - is not a particularly reliable ally, and that the Iranians won't let themselves be dictated to by Moscow. Putin doesn't want Syria to become a second Afghanistan. He can't afford it economically, and doesn't want to get bogged down in the desert around Raqqah or the Donbass.”

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Der Standard (AT) / 12 September 2016
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