The Russian-American agreement on a ceasefire in Syria has created the first real opportunity to settle one of the bloodiest and most destructive armed conflicts, one that has brought the world to the brink of World War III. A real world war. That’s not hyperbole; it’s the harsh political reality of our time.
Five years of crisis in Syria has pulled in not only half the largest countries in the region, but also the great powers — members of the U.N. Security Council.
From the very beginning of the conflict, all sides declared that a political settlement was paramount and rejected a military solution to the Syrian problem. However, this was nearly impossible to achieve, and in spite of official statements, there was an increase in military pressure on Damascus. The Syrian armed forces were forced to fight on several fronts. Over the course of five years, their strength decreased by half, which gave the opposition the illusion it could achieve its political goals through military means.
The situation changed after Bashar Assad turned to Russia for help.
Our armed forces became the decisive factor in working toward a political solution. The West received a clear signal that Russia will not permit a coerced solution to the Syrian problem when Russian planes appeared over Syrian territory, S-400 anti-missile and anti-air systems were installed and Russian warships closed on Syria’s shores. Immediately afterward, the negotiation process got off the ground and we saw real movement toward a political solution.
Of course, opposition to this agreement is inevitable. The joint announcement has many critics, both among the Syrian opposition and in Russian political circles.
The leaders of the Syrian opposition view the deal between Russia and the U.S. as a betrayal of their interests. To them, it means the Americans have handed over management of the Syrian crisis to Russia. This point of view is widespread among opposition leaders and in Arabic media outlets. However, given America’s role in providing logistical support to opposition groups, I think they will eventually have to come to terms with Washington’s position.
In Russia, a certain skepticism is apparent among a percentage of political scientists and politicians. Critics of the deal believe Russia shouldn’t have compromised while the Syrian army was winning. This position is mistaken.
Immediately prior to the conclusion of the ceasefire, there was a real threat of a Turkish incursion into Syrian territory. At the same time, Saudi paratroopers were planning landings in Syria, to be launched from Jordan. NATO and the United States sponsored all this. World War III could have become an absolute reality. The ceasefire deal, achieved by Russia and the U.S., halted that scenario.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt a threat of a ceasefire breaking down. The Syrian political opposition, having bounced from Washington to London to Paris to Istanbul and Qatar, created the illusion it was leading the fight against the legal Syrian authorities. However, once it came down to the concrete decision-making for a ceasefire, it became apparent that the opposition was incapable of handling the situation on the battlefield. There is no military force willing to submit to the opposition. Now, Assad is being targeted by the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and — as written in the joint statement — “other terrorist organizations.” Obviously, these groups are incapable of participating in constructive negotiations.
Even so, I think both Moscow and Washington are aware of this danger and are taking steps to prevent the ceasefire from breaking down. Thus, I want to focus on another, exceedingly important point: the fact that this deal, without a doubt, will have a major impact on the entire spectrum of Russian-American relations. Russia has established its positions and demonstrated that it has no intention of abandoning its foreign policy principles. At the same time, Russia has no plan to unnecessarily challenge the United States.
Moscow and Washington managed to work out joint principles for a settlement, allowing them to avoid war and achieve a political solution. These principles may serve as a foundation for further progress. I am convinced the approach taken by both sides to resolve the Syrian crisis will open doors for settling the Ukrainian crisis. Appearing before the U.N. General Assembly in September 2015, Putin addressed Western leaders with the question: “Do you realize what you’ve done?” In my opinion, it seems those in the West are now beginning to realize that Russia’s Middle Eastern policies have saved that region from a catastrophic transformation.