Since the implementation of the ceasefire in Syria, fighting has decreased significantly, and so it follows, the influx of Syrian migrants into Europe dwindles as well. Don’t get all excited just yet. The ‘ceasefire’ has not been a complete cessation of hostilities, as per the usual definition. This week, despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts at diplomacy, the peace deal is teetering on the brink of collapse.
Here at Fusionlacedillusions.com, we are getting reports that Syrian air force planes and artillery have bombed rebel positions in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. Dozens of people have been reported killed in battles in western Aleppo between rebel fighters and Syrian army forces backed by Hezbollah fighters. Some are reporting at least 40 Syrian soldiers and about 10 rebels have been killed. By order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian air force halted its airstrikes in the Aleppo area for two days, but Syria’s air force alone is simply not up to a large-scale attack although it can be marginally effective on the Aleppo front.
There are four main reasons why diplomacy is failing. First, Russia reserves the right to attack any “terrorist group”. The tricky part is, Russia has a different definition of terrorist group than what the US and the West does. It is not just ISIS, al-Nusra and other officially designated groups. Russia defines “terrorist group” as anyone who is not sworn to the regime of President Assad, or possibly the Kurds. Russia can therefore in good conscience, attack anyone under the pretext of attacking ISIS. Russia has only just gotten around to extending its ceasefire to the city of Aleppo, which, in case you have not noticed, is not in fact an ISIS target.
Second, there are now thousands of independent militias, or gangs, if you will, who are concerned neither with overthrowing Assad nor defeating ISIS. Out of the chaos of the conflict, they have established lucrative rackets for their members such as smuggling, extortion, sexual slavery, assassinations, and whatever else they please. To them, any ceasefire is a double edged sword. First, they can no longer pretend their activities are legitimate political fighting, and they will be targeted by all other actors including the local populace as the organized crime they really are. Second, after all they have done during the fighting, they cannot even be safe from each other. They have many enemies within with many scores to settle. Ironically, for most of the people in that situation, they will only be safe as long as the war rages on. So expect them to continue fighting and to do their best to undermine any attempts at ceasefire by the larger, legitimate actors. The fragmented nature of the “opposition” means that there is no one person or group to hold accountable or responsible, thus making diplomacy itself null and void.
Third, many rebel groups cooperate with each other in such a way that it is very difficult to know where one groups ends and another begins. For the Russians and Assad’s troops, lines are all blurred as to who can be attacked and who cannot while on the ‘opposition’ side, lines are blurred on who is bound by the ceasefire, and ‘safe’ from Russian bombardment, and who is going to be targeted anyway. As long as there is no clearly definable enemy, individuals and groups will continue to settle scores, run rackets, and carry out attacks without ever declaring who or what they are fighting for or against.
Lastly, Russia and Assad have little incentive to compromise with either the “opposition” or the West. The dynamics on the ground are changing rapidly and they have the momentum to impose their political agenda. Aleppo is still resisting, but it has almost been bombed completely into submission, and there is hardly anything left standing in the city. Elsewhere, the situation is similar. Russia and Assad believe they are now in the position to bomb every opposition group into submission. So unless the ‘opposition’ concedes on Assad’s terms, which they will not, Russia and Assad will continue to bomb them until they are all quite dead.
As it is now becoming clear, the fears that the ‘opposition’ had about the original ceasefire plan have materialized: the plan was put forward simply to give Russia the cover it needed to consolidate its position. Now that Russia has done so, the ‘rebels’ are faced with a very simple choice.