Russia’s role in negotiating the Syrian cease-fire with the United States highlights how its year-old military intervention dramatically changed a brutal conflict — and elevated President Vladimir Putin’s stature in the Middle East.
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The truce appeared to hold Wednesday despite scattered reports of violations since the cease-fire went into effect Monday. It resulted from weeks of negotiations between Russian and American diplomats who sought to restrain Russian-supported forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and U.S.-Supported opposition groups.
Guns mostly quiet for Syrian cease-fire.
Syria cease-fire: What’s different this time.
The Syrian cease-fire, which could lead to closer U.S. And Russia military cooperation if it holds, shows how much Putin has altered the five-year conflict.
When Russia’s intervention began, Assad’s forces had faced a summer of losses, due in part to the successful use of advanced anti-tank weapons by opposition forces backed by the United States, which wants Assad to step down. Some rebel forces were aided by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. And the Islamic State had seized large swaths of the country.
Putin stepped in, promising to root out “terrorists” from Syria, and invited the U.S. To join him. But when the airstrikes began, the Pentagon said they targeted legitimate opposition forces, including the same U.S.-Supported rebel groups that had been winning against Assad.
Putin’s influence in Syria is just one way he has made his mark recently in the Middle East. He helped Obama achieve the nuclear deal with Assad-ally Iran in July 2015, and this summer approved the deployment of advanced air defense systems in Iran to protect Iranian nuclear installations. In addition, Russia announced this month that Moscow will host a new effort to resume long-stalled peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The Russian military was sent into Syria a year ago with the specific goal of stabilizing the Assad regime and in that respect Russia’s been successful,” said Steven Pifer, a former State Department and White House official. “Russia may say Assad is better than the chaos that might ensue if Syria collapsed.”.
Putin wants to preserve his ally Assad and to counter terrorism, which Russia has suffered from, too. But domestic political consideration also play a role, Pifer said, now a Russia expert at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. And Putin “has also been successful in making Russia a player,” he said.
Last October, President Obama said Putin’s intervention would lead to a “quagmire,” and the U.S. Would not cooperate. “It won’t work, and they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course,” Obama said.
In the past year, however, Russia’s air force, together with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, helped Assad regain his footing and take back lost territory. Assad’s fighters won battle after battle, retaking the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State and Homs, a major rebel-stronghold. Last month rebel forces surrendered and evacuated Daraya, a Damascus suburb that was one of the first places to rise up against Assad’s rule.
After a summer-long effort by Syrian forces to surround rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Russia has attained Putin’s initial goal of an agreement with the U.S. To work together against the Islamic State and the local terrorist affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Kerry said if the truce holds it would lead to talks between Assad’s government and the opposition about a political solution to the conflict, including a transitional government — presumably without Assad.
The truce agreement calls for opening access for humanitarian convoys and developing a joint effort to fight the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise. If the calm lasts a week, Russian and U.S. Military experts will map the battlefield together. The so-called Joint Implementation Center will delineate where opposition forces are located, where its mixed in with Nusra Front forces, and where Nusra and Islamic State forces are alone and can be hit by Russia, Syrian or U.S. Coalition airstrikes, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
While Kirby said the U.S. Will not coordinate directly with Syria, targeting data shared with the Russians can guide Syrian airstrikes.
Putin’s new focus is “about Russian nationalism and Russia’s return as a great power,” Pifer said. “Russia as a great power needs to act in some ways.”.